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UNC athletes connected to Twitter, social networking sites

When North Carolina’s Athletic Department issued a release in early April that point guard Larry Drew II would not be transferring, Drew went to Associate Athletic Director Steve Kirschner and asked him to delay the release.

“I want to Tweet out that I’ve got an announcement, build up some followers,” Drew told Kirschner.

Kirschner gave him an hour.

Twitter, Facebook and social networking generated a plethora of stories from UNC’s men’s basketball team during the 2009-10 season, a tangible result of the widespread popularity of social media.

A panel including Kirschner and UNC senior Marcus Ginyard talked about the ramifications of Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday morning at the Scholarly Conference on College Sport, held at UNC’s Friday Center.

The conflict with Twitter revolves around the lack of regulation combined with athletes’ rabid fan following.

Kirschner and Ginyard said there still is a learning curve, as athletes don’t always understand that their Tweets are public — a concept reinforced recently as the Library of Congress started to archive Tweets.

“They may be Tweeting back to their buddies back home, but every paper is reading those Tweets,” Kirschner said.

That was never more clear than after UNC’s loss to College of Charleston this January, when North Carolina freshman John Henson Tweeted that UNC had “made someone’s college career relevant.”

Local newspapers ran the Tweet, and the ensuing story was a snafu for North Carolina.

“Not only did we lose, our guys were bummed out, but now we look like poor sports,” Kirschner said. “And we look like we don’t care.”

There are also legal considerations of Tweets that might violate student privacy laws — like when a teammate Tweeted that UNC’s David Wear might be out for the season with a broken ankle.

“I asked him, ‘Do you have $250,000?’” Kirschner said. “‘You just violated HIPAA. If you want to start thinking about the payment plan, that would be a good idea.’”

Ginyard said the learning process has been slow and sometimes rocky.

“I think that the more and more these situations occur the people are … starting to get an understanding that what they say has an effect on a large group of people and sometimes comes back in a negative way,” Ginyard said.

With a fervent fan following, North Carolina’s players are heavily scrutinized on every level.

“When Ed Tweets at 2:30, there’s more conversation about why Ed Davis is Tweeting at 2:30 in the morning when he’s got a game the next day than what he actually says,” Kirschner said.

One solution posed at the conference was for UNC’s Athletic Department to post all of its basketball players’ Tweets on the official athletic website.

“There’s nothing private,” Kirschner said. “Once you put it out there, it’s out there. And that’s one of the things that we’re all learning about social media. You have to be a little bit careful.”

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