As rumors swirled in late December that Ohio State football players were involved in NCAA violations, OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor took to the world of social media to claim his innocence.

“I paid for my tattoos. GoBucks,” Pryor posted to his Twitter account on Dec. 22.

The following day, Pryor and four teammates were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling awards, gifts and university apparel and receiving improper benefits. Pryor deleted the tweet, but it is just one example of the way social media are changing the way that athletes and public figures are communicating with the public.

Besides Pryor, members of nearly every OSU athletic team have taken to social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with fans, friends and teammates. Even OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith has a Twitter account, which he used to dispel a Christmas Day rumor that OSU football coach Jim Tressel was leaving the program.

OSU forward David Lighty of the men’s basketball team said that his Twitter account allows fans to see a side of him that they wouldn’t normally.

“People might not know you as much off the court as they do on the court, so people get to interact with you a lot more,” Lighty said. “I like that because I am a people person.”

Social media can also leave athletes vulnerable to scrutiny for their unfiltered thoughts. Following the Oct. 16 loss to Wisconsin, former OSU quarterback and ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit criticized Pryor for his sideline demeanor. Pryor posted a tweet calling Herbstreit a “fake Buckeye.”

Dan Wallenberg, associate athletics director for communications at OSU, said the athletic department does its best to educate players about the potential pitfalls of using social media.

“I kind of use it as an educational tool so that they kind of think about, before they hit send, who’s reading it, where it could end up,” Wallenberg said. “Media are using tweets in every story now … so make sure they’re something that represents yourself well, your family well and that kind of thing.”

Wallenberg said there has not been any major incidents regarding any of OSU’s use of social media, although he has had to remind players to think before posting.

“There’s been some things that I’ve read I’m like, ‘you know you probably don’t want to continue to do this, and here’s why,'” Wallenberg said.

OSU linebacker Brian Rolle said he’s aware that anybody can get a hold of his tweets — especially his coaches.

“I think about it every time I tweet something, I’ll be like, ‘oh somebody might see that,'” Rolle said. “Coach Tressel does a good job of just informing the team that, you know, they do have eyes everywhere. They have people on Facebook, Twitter, whatever else guys are on these days and know to be careful what you do post because it may end up somewhere that you don’t want it.”

Wallenberg said policies regarding social media use are left to the discretion of each team’s head coach.

OSU men’s basketball coach Thad Matta said that he doesn’t have a social media policy in place, although he wouldn’t rule out eventually making one.

“I probably should, but I don’t right now,” Matta said. “I’ve never read a Twitter, so I’ll have to work on that.”

Wallenberg, who uses his personal Twitter account to monitor OSU athletes and provide information to the media throughout men’s basketball games, recognized the benefits social media can provide as tools to promote OSU athletics.

“It’s a great way for them to interact with people, other students and other fans,” Wallenberg said. “It helps promote them, it helps promote our program.”