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Too Hot To Handle Web sites Baffle College Officials

One ill-fated lapse in cyber-judgment by a college athlete has cost him his position on one of the top football teams in the country.

Buck Burnette, a sophomore at the University of Texas, was dismissed from the team earlier this month after posting a racially charged comment about President-elect Barack Obama on his Facebook page.

Burnette said the comment was sent to him from a friend via text message and that he made a poor decision in posting the remark to his Web page.

The message appeared under the status update on his Facebook page. It read: all the hunters gather up, we have a [racial slur] in the White House, referring to Obama, the nation’s first Black president.

Burnette has since apologized and, in a written statement, called his action a “terrible decision.”

Longhorn coach Mack Brown said he had warned his players about the dangers of posting personal information on the Internet and called Facebook and other social networking websites “dangerous.”

The social networking phenomenon, exacerbated by the popularity of Web sites such as: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and Xenga has created a complex cyber terrain for college officials and administrators to navigate. With social networks still in their infantile stages, the rules have yet to be defined. Findings from recent data highlight a technological world moving so rapidly that neither the students nor the schools have had time to factor in all the implications.

Last year, the University of Minnesota at Duluth banned athletes from using social-networking sites of any sort. Not only is Facebook forbidden, but so are MySpace and Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site, according to The Minnesota Daily.

Tennessee State University, a historically Black campus, recently banned by blocking it from its servers when a student became the subject of inappropriate allegations. Unlike other social networking sites that require participants to register, Juicy Campus allows anonymous users to introduce topics and comment on them, creating a perfect storm for cyber bullying.

The site was blocked because “it does not support education or research, which is what our network is for,” says Tennessee State’s Dr. Michael Freeman, Vice President of Student Affairs.

A recent survey conducted by Kaplan Inc., reported that 10 percent of admissions officers from prestigious schools said they had peeked at sites like Facebook and MySpace to evaluate college-bound seniors. Of those using the profiles, 38 percent said it had a “negative impact” on the applicant.

At least one admissions officer had rescinded an offer because of an applicant’s postings, results showed. The survey went out to 500 schools — of which 320 responded — in July and August and promised anonymity.

MySpace, arguably the champion of social networking, is not only used by college athletes.

Following the racial incident at the University of Texas, a survey found many coaches shared Brown’s concerns about balancing athletes’ free speech with putting too much personal information about themselves on the Internet.

Some universities even go as far as to monitor their athletes’ pages. At the University of Oklahoma, for instance, the college’s compliance office routinely checks their athletes’ personal profiles. Freeman, on the other hand, has no interest in monitoring the web pages of his students. 

“I would not want to get into the business of monitoring,” Freeman says. “Everybody has free will to what they want to do.”

Freeman has since sent a letter to students advising them to be more responsible about the information they post to the web.

“Students should think about what they launch into cyberspace. What they think is harmless could have serious consequences,” Freeman says.

Surprisingly, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has a MySpace page, where under his profile you can learn his favorite movie is Rio Bravo; his interests are throwing stuff, football and pirate history; and his annual salary is $250,000 and higher. Among Leach’s 2,372 “friends” are Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and Florida coach Urban Meyer, The Houston Chronicle reported.

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