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Students study at K-State Student Union Jan. 28. K-State has implemented a student social media policy to promote “responsible and ethical behavior” in the digital realm.

A brand-new social media policy for K-State students sets an expectation for “responsible and ethical behavior” in the digital realm.

K-State officials announced the new policy Tuesday.

It’s part of the university’s “Action Plan for a More Inclusive K-State” and includes language that “encourages students to consider the ramifications and consequences of their messages and content before posting,” according to a written statement from university administrators.

K-State spokeswoman Michelle Geering said university employees have a social media policy as outlined by the Kansas Board of Regents, but this is the first time the university is implementing a policy for students. The new policy prohibits social media posts that threaten violence, include cyberbullying and harassment, defame a person’s character, and cause “unreasonable interference with the education, research, public service and outreach missions of the university.”

K-State dean of students Thomas Lane led the seven-person team that developed the policy. In a written statement, he said the feedback received from students, faculty and staff “was essential to creating a policy that resonates with all areas of our university community.”

The new policy is comprised of four main points: inviting students to take advantage of social media, reminding them that they are expected to conduct themselves responsibly and ethically online, informing them of any corrective action that might occur if they violate the policy, and supporting students who have questions or concerns about social media usage and freedom of expression.

“The instances of prohibited conduct are limited to social media use that violates existing university policies, or state or federal law when there is a sufficient connection or justified concern related to the university,” Lane said in an email to The Mercury.

The new policy states that students can block or delete offending accounts and content on their personal social media accounts. They also can report offensive content to the social media platforms or report it to university officials if it “has the potential to disrupt student learning or other campus operations.”

If there is a threat of a crime, students are encouraged to report such threats to campus police. In the case of cyberbullying or harassment — or prolonged use of social media — students are encouraged to speak “with a trusted mental health professional” at Lafene Health Center.

Lane and his staff, along with the director of the Office of Student Life or the Office of Institutional Equity, may conduct a review of any alleged violations of the policy.

“Potential violations of this policy will be reviewed through existing processes such as the university’s threat management policy,” Lane said. “It’s a policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment, and the Student Code of Conduct.”

That review will include a conversation with the student or students in question to determine the context and severity of the social media violation and may lead to disciplinary action if necessary. In the case of unlawful conduct, including threats of crime and violence, such reports will be filed with the K-State Police Department.

“Violations of this policy may result in disciplinary action in accordance with other applicable university policy violations, up to and including suspension or expulsion from the university,” Lane said.

Other campus officials who contributed to the policy include Shari Crittendon, general counsel; Andy Thompson, senior associate dean and director of student life; Laurel Moody, assistant dean of student life; Jana Thomas, professor of practice and sequence head for strategic communications in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications; and Zach Perez, junior in mass communications.

In addition, the 20-member Student Code of Conduct Revision Committee provided input into the policy.

Lane said the team that developed the new policy drew inspiration from similar policies implemented at the University of New Hampshire and the University of New Mexico.

K-State students’ social media usage came under scrutiny last summer when former student Jaden McNeil posted inflammatory tweets about the death of George Floyd, the Black man who was murdered by Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.

K-State students and alumni called for the university to expel McNeil, and a group of K-State athletes said they would not play or practice until McNeil was reprimanded or removed from the university.

Following that incident, KSU president Richard Myers issued a statement with a list of action goals to improve accountability and address injustice, but he cited free speech as the reason the university wouldn’t expel McNeil. The athletes resumed practice and play after this.

The university confirmed in January that McNeil is no longer enrolled at K-State.