Commentary  Editorial: Another ban that shouldn’t be

Concordia University recently banned Facebook on campus computers with wired connections, citing security concerns including spam, viruses, phishing (soliciting confidential information under false pretenses), and leaks of confidential information. The university hasn’t banned any other web sites – not even porn – but Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota admitted that Concordia’s IT Department is researching other sites the university could choose to ban.

There are many problems with Concordia’s decision, the first being that their supposed technical logic is flawed. Spam and viruses are much more easily spread over email, the latter in particular since it requires that a third-party application be manually installed to send a file over Facebook.

We’re also unimpressed with how Concordia handled the situation, since the university did not consult students before enacting the ban, and worse, did not make much of an effort to publicize it. The university’s motives behind the ban are also suspect. As Mota said, the university’s IT employees have problems with the site because “there is so much personal information on Facebook, the access is so free, a lot of information moves where you wouldn’t expect.” But the ignorance of some people does not warrant an outright ban.

Despite Facebook’s flaws, banning it or any other social networking site is effectively a restriction on free communication – a form of censorship. With this move, Concordia joins the Government of Ontario, American Apparel, and China in their disdain for the social-networking site. Left unchallenged, this ban would set a dangerous precedent, especially at universities, which should provide a forum for the open exchange of ideas.

While it may not be the ideal scenario, many student activities and groups depend on Facebook, as the site has become an important tool for social activism. Concordia’s Co-Op Bookstore manager Larissa Duti summed it up nicely when she spoke to The Link, Concordia’s independent student newspaper: “Facebook was really a tool that we started using, then realized it was a really powerful method in community organizing and getting people mobilized too.” There are countless examples of groups using Facebook to promote social, political or environmental events at McGill, such as the recent Reclaim Your Campus protest and the first-ever Farmers’ Market.

Further, this specific ban only applies to wired Internet connections, which is unfair to those who exclusively depend on campus computers. Why should some students have access to Facebook on campus, but not others?

This does not mean we don’t have any problems with Facebook – its privacy policy is a particular source of concern, despite the voluntary nature of the web site. Other problems include Facebook gathering and storing personal information in order to tailor its advertising for each individual user, reserving the right to use any user’s pictures for nearly any purpose on their site, tracking users’ purchases and linking them to profiles, and keeping information uploaded to its site for eternity. These policies could easily lead to Facebook abusing its powers with users’ personal information, even if it is ultimately the user’s choice whether to accept Facebook’s 6,500-word Terms of Service.

While students should not have to wait for a campus computer when someone else is stalking friends’ photos or debating whether to poke someone, these concerns do not merit such a draconian act. Internet censorship has no place in universities, and Concordia students take action on this issue by pressuring their administration to reverse the decision.