Social Media Use, Guidelines and Policy Implications

Social networks provide fun and exciting ways to connect with others who share common interests. These guidelines are meant to permit appropriate use of social media, while prohibiting conduct through social media that is illegal or against University of Florida policy or professional standards.  These guidelines also provide suggestions for situations involving social media that could be damaging to either participants or the university.

The University of Florida Social Media Use Guidelines apply to all employees and students of the university. The guidelines also apply to other people (such as volunteers and appointees) who use internally managed university computing resources. The guidelines apply to all forms of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, text messages, and other, less-popular platforms, as well as those not in existence at the time of the adoption of these guidelines.

The guidelines apply to employees outside of work hours and while using personal accounts when use of social media affects an individual’s responsibility as a member of the university community as further explained in the last section of these guidelines.

This document provides several policies and regulations that may apply to the use of social media. Violations of these policies may result in criminal or civil penalties, and/or consequences affecting an individual’s employment or student status, including but not limited to disciplinary action, and may result in personal liability.

Users of university computing resources should be aware that such use is not private and may be monitored in accordance with the University of Florida Acceptable Use of Computing Resources Policy referenced below.

Activities Violating the Law
Use of social media in ways that violate the law, including but not limited to federal, state, local and, when applicable, foreign  laws, regulations, rules, policies, and University of Florida or Florida Board of Governors regulations and policies, may result in criminal or civil penalties as well as disciplinary actions.  Students must also abide by the Student Code of Conduct.  These guidelines highlight certain aspects of these laws, regulations, and policies, but are not intended to and do not represent a comprehensive review of them. In addition, what is posted on a social networking site may be used as evidence of activity that violates the law (as described above).

Acceptable Use

Social media users must abide by the University’s Acceptable Use of Computing Resources Policy.

Confidentiality of Student and Applicant Records
Federal laws (including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or “FERPA”), Florida law, and University of Florida regulations governing the confidentiality of student and applicant records (and information from such records) apply to social media use. Information from student, alumni, or applicant records (including but not limited to academic records, disciplinary records, correspondence through e-mail or other means, or (with limited exceptions) any other records individually identifying students at the university or applicants to the university) should never be released via social media without approval of the Chief Privacy Officer.  Before approved, written consent of all students and applicants involved approving disclosure to the broad public using social media for a particular purpose must be signed and dated.  For more information about the privacy of student and applicant information, please view the following resources:

Patient Privacy
Use of social media, even in a personal capacity, must comply with state and federal law concerning patient information including but not limited to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). For a general overview of HIPAA, please visit:the Privacy Office website.

A patient’s privacy may not be violated by releasing his or her protected health information unless that patient (or patient’s parent/guardian) has signed an approved University of Florida Health Science Center (HSC) form authorizing the release of such information. The form must specify the individual or entity authorized to release the information. University of Florida personnel may not reveal patients’ health information on personal social media sites unless the patient or patient’s parent/guardian has signed an approved UF Health Science Center form specifically authorizing the individual to release the information broadly.  Forms can be found on the University of Florida Privacy Office’s website.

Protected health information includes photographs and videos of the patient, even if the patient asked for the photo/video to be made or consented to it being made. It is best to return such photos to the patient, as long as no other patients are in the photos.

Patient information may not be posted, even if it has been “de-identified.” Please keep in mind the following:

  • It often is possible to identify patients even if their names or other obvious identifying information are not included.
  • Details, such as names, places of work/study, and the date/time stamp can make it easy to identify patients described, particularly to the patients themselves and their families and friends.
  • If patients contact those affiliated with UF via social media, simply responding to a patient, with no medical advice, is acceptable. Providing medical advice or information through social media is not permitted, even if the patient requests it.

Patients treated outside the U.S.–for example, as part of a medical, research, or other international humanitarian mission–also have a right to privacy. In addition to U.S. and Florida requirements, foreign jurisdictions often have their own privacy laws that apply.  Patients’ identities and medical information, as well as photos, videos, and audio recordings featuring them, should be treated with the same respect shown to those of a patient receiving care in the United States. Be sure to identify and comply with U.S., Florida, and applicable foreign jurisdiction privacy laws, keeping in mind the following:

  • Disclosing information about a patient treated in another country could be a violation of that country’s privacy laws, as well as U.S. and Florida laws and UF and Shands policies.
  • Before information, pictures/videos, or recordings featuring patients from outside the U.S. is created, posted, or transmitted, the University’s Chief Privacy Officer should be contacted for approval at privacy@ufl.edu.  Collecting certain data on individuals may also be subject to U.S., University of Florida, and foreign requirements on human subjects research.

Please see the “Recommended Sanctions” links on UF’s Health Information Privacy page for possible penalties for violating patient privacy.

Research and Intellectual Property
Releasing unpublished research data or unprotected intellectual property may impair its protection. In keeping with the University’s Intellectual Property Policy, unpublished research data or unprotected intellectual property may not be released through social media in a manner that impairs patent protection, violates any condition of an applicable research contract or grant, or violates any applicable law.

Other Forms of Restricted Data
Revealing other forms of legally restricted records, data, or information via social media is strictly prohibited. Records protected include but are not limited to:  Social Security numbers, financial information, employee or student medical information, limited access employee records pursuant to Section 1012.61, Florida Statutes, trade secrets, copyrighted materials, materials covered by export control laws and regulations, and other materials the university is required to maintain as confidential or has agreed to do so.

While those affiliated with UF may disclose information about themselves, they should exercise caution in doing so for their own protection. Once disclosed through social media, the information may be accessed indefinitely and in many contexts (e.g., actual and potential employers, professional licensure authorities, elections, current and future family members) that may not have been contemplated at the time.

Misrepresentation

Those affiliated with UF may not portray themselves as acting on behalf of the university or any part of the university, such as the Health Science Center, IFAS, a college, department, or any other unit, or present a social media account as an official university account unless authorized to do so by the vice president with jurisdiction over the applicable unit. Even when acting in one’s university capacity, UF faculty, staff, students, volunteers, etc. may not represent their own positions and opinions as those of the university.  When using social media in a personal capacity, reasonable precautions must be taken to indicate that the activity is being conducted  as a private person and not as an employee, agent, or spokesperson of the university.

Authorization

Authorization to present a social media account as an official university activity must come from the vice president with jurisdiction over one’s unit as well as the vice president for University Relations or his/her designee.  Permission to use any University of Florida service marks, trademarks, or logos must be obtained from and may be requested of University Relations by calling (352) 846-3903.

General

  • Employees may not spend more than minimal work time on personal activities, including the use of social media. However, a vice president or his/her designee may authorize use of personal social media sites and accounts that further  university interests.
  • Social media communications that a reasonable person in the position of the target of the communications would consider to be a true threat of violence against the target, or that a reasonable person knows or reasonably should know would cause (and that do cause) severe emotional distress, likely violates the law and would violate university regulations. Social media communications that contain false statements that could harm a person’s reputation are likely defamatory and may result in civil liability. Social media communications that are obscene or that represent child pornography violate criminal laws and would violate university regulations.

Professional Standards
Those employed or in a course of study in a field that is subject to professional or ethical standards must comply with those standards in their university capacity.  Such standards also apply to one’s personal capacity if the standards generally apply at all times or if one’s personal conduct would affect or reflect on his or her university role.

Text, photos, videos, and other material posted on social media pages, including personal ones, should be in keeping with generally accepted professional and/or ethical standards for one’s field(s) of work and/or study.

Depictions of behavior that do not comply with professional and/or ethical standards may result in disciplinary action by professional organizations or if relevant to a University of Florida role, by the university.  Please review the regulations published by the university