Concordia banned access to popular social networking site Facebook on the university’s hard-wired computers on the first day of the month.
Concerned that Facebook threatens the reliability of the wired network due to spam, viruses, confidential information leaks, and phishing – soliciting confidential information under false pretenses – the university decided to block the site.
Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota explained that the volume of information exchanged on Facebook poses problems for the wired network.
“The access [on Facebook] is so free, a lot of information moves where you wouldn’t expect,” Mota said
Computers wired to the Concordia network, including staff computers and workstations in the libraries and computer labs can no longer open the Facebook homepage. Students can still visit Facebook through the university’s wireless connection accessed through laptops or computers in residences.
Mota explained why the wireless network had not been restricted.
“[The wireless network] is not necessarily less vulnerable, but it’s not our key network. If the main network goes down…we can’t function,” She said.
Foregoing consultation with students and staff, Concordia announced their decision to ban Facebook in an instructional and informational technology services (IITS) post. The post failed to reach many students and staff, who are finding out about the ban either through word of mouth or by trying to access Facebook themselves.
Concordia undergraduate Miriam Zgodzinski found out about the ban when she tried to access Facebook from a Concordia computer lab.
“I asked the guy next to me to check Facebook, and he asked the person next to him. So there was this chain reaction down the computer lab,” Zgodzinski said. “A lot of people were outraged.”
While Concordia Communications professor Matthew Soar thinks Facebook can be a distracting time-suck for students, he criticized the university for implementing its decision to block the site without consulting students and faculty.
“What I would like to see is an open discussion,” Soar said.
Soar argued that Information Technology (IT) experts decide arbitrarily how to restrict web access for businesses and university networks large and small. IT experts are continuing to conduct research to identify sites that are problematic for the network – the process that culminated in the September Facebook ban.
The IT department responded to roughly 20 complaints from faculty and staff members by suggesting several ways users bypass the restriction, including an antenna attachment that allows the computer to access the wireless network.
Facebook has also served as a useful tool to facilitate organization around issues like social justice by helping people with common interests network through groups. McGill campus activist Cleve Higgins, U3 International Development Studies and Sociology, for example, used a Facebook group last spring to garner support for a proposed student-run café in Shatner. The group currently has 612 members.
“I think the most important part of social activism is walking around and talking to people face-to-face,” said Higgins. “But [Facebook] can be a useful part of that, for contacting people you might not reach otherwise, and getting messages out to a large amount of people.”
Facebook has also been used to affect changes in government and in businesses, such as protesting Canadian copyright reform and Bell’s incoming text messaging fees.
Soar saw the importance of social networking sites like Facebook in promoting freedom of expression and access to people and information.
“We need to acknowledge [Facebook] is not just about social networking, but about social activism,” Soar said.
Jake Silva, a Concordia undergraduate, was skeptical about the motives behind Concordia’s decision, but given the shortage of computers in the library and the Hall Building – areas that see a high volume of students – thought there were advantages to blocking Facebook.
“I don’t have problem with them blocking Facebook for the reason that maybe too many people are on it when other people need to use the computers for actual schoolwork,” Silva said.
According to Zgodzinski, students wait in long lines for computers at the computer lab on the Hall Building’s ninth floor and in the library.