Legal experts question WSU Twitter ban

Legal experts question WSU Twitter ban
Washington State coach Mike Leach is seen in a Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 file photo. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)
Coach Mike Leach's decision to ban his players from using Twitter raises concerns about prior restraint and free speech, two legal experts said Wednesday.

"You cannot create a prior restraint on your students because they may do something or say something that may create embarrassment (for) your school," said Bradley Shear, a Maryland-based social media attorney.

Frank LoMonte, executive director at the Student Press Law Center based in Arlington, Va., said such bans will likely face a court challenge in the coming years.

"There's definitely a free speech argument to be made," LoMonte said. "In terms of literally saying don't use a form of communication, I'm not sure if that would hold up (in court)."

Leach announced the ban after two student reporters for the Murrow News Service provided the Twitter messages to the athletic department on Tuesday afternoon, seeking comment. During the past few months, several football players apparently posted public messages on the social media site that included derogatory terms for women and African-Americans. The Murrow News Service is not naming the players because of the difficulty in definitively verifying the identity of Twitter users.

In July, one Twitter account linked to a prominent WSU player included a quotation that he attributed to a former teammate. The Twitter message quoted the former WSU player as saying, "I'm not banging anyone other than strippers and hookers …"

Another Twitter account linked to a football player said, "Slap her on the booty … with some money." A third referenced a sexual act with a woman. Many of the messages cannot be printed.

After Leach's announcement, several of the Twitter accounts linked to WSU players were taken down.

"Twitter is now banned around here so don't expect anything on Twitter," Leach said after Tuesday's practice. "Twitter's banned and quite frankly if after today you see anything on Twitter from our team-- and I don't care if it says 'I love life'-- I would like to see it because I will suspend them."

Leach previously banned players from Twitter in 2009 at Texas Tech.

Shear said colleges and universities should educated students on appropriate use of social media.

"My biggest fear is that if you start banning students from doing this, what kind of lesson are you teaching students?" Shear said.

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The Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.