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Censorship Social Networks The Internet

Illinois University Restricts Access To Social Media, Online Political Content 130

Posted by timothy
from the teach-the-controversy dept.
onproton writes Northern Illinois University recently began restricting student access to web pages that contain "illegal or unethical" content which, according to University policy, includes resources used for "political activities...and the organization or participation in meetings, rallies and demonstrations." A student raised concerns after attempting to access the Wikipedia page for Westboro Baptist Church, and receiving a filter message informing him that his access of this page would likely violate the University's Acceptable Use Policy, along with a warning that "all violations would be reviewed." This has lead to questions about whether some policies that restrict student access to information are in the best interest of the primary goal of education.
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Illinois University Restricts Access To Social Media, Online Political Content

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  • by jasonrice22 (3458571) on Friday August 22, 2014 @06:55PM (#47733579)
    Perhaps it is because the university is more about indoctrination than education.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by wisnoskij (1206448)

      Perhaps it is because all universities are more about indoctrination than education.

      Fixed that for you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Our internet usage policy at the labs was ANYTHING that is legal, including porn. You did get told got to a corner and turn your monitor as not to offend anyone with your fetishes. The stories the lab assistants told. Labs were also open to the public, you just had to register and have proof of local permanent residency, and you got booted if a student needed a spot. Any punishment the University could dole out, including expulsion, was able to be overruled by a jury of students, so long as it wasn't over a
    • by hackus (159037)

      Anyone who is stupid enough to pay a University via a banker to become "institutionalized" deserves exactly what they get.

      In the age of the internet, if you have to pay someone to sit you in a room and teach you like a trained monkey you have serious problems that go way beyond education.

      Universities are sort of like the last DINO's that hung around after the big rock thing from the sky happened. In this case the rock is the formation of the modern internet.

      I would pay about $500 bucks for a Bachelors degre

      • by ArmoredDragon (3450605) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @01:49AM (#47735211)

        In the age of the internet, if you have to pay someone to sit you in a room and teach you like a trained monkey you have serious problems that go way beyond education.

        I'll actually say that's quite wrong. At least it is for me anyways. I actually learned networking from the Cisco Network Academy at my local community college. The teachers there combined their literally decades of field experience with Cisco's curriculum, and I can honestly say just from that alone I probably know more than some of the people I've worked with in the past who themselves have been in their jobs for decades, and are where they are from learning it the way you describe...in fact some of the things I've seen some people do wrong are just downright scary from a security perspective.

        Now if you want to make that argument about typical schools with high tuition rates, there's a ring of truth to it. I don't know why, but I often find that the more people spend on their education, the worse it is. There are outliers of course, but it tends to be the rule that if you paid a lot for your education, then you paid too much.

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          I actually found that doing my CCNA at one the physical cisco academy's very usefully having 20 routers and switches to play with makes the course so much easier. I even went in on my day off and did some additional experiments to get to the bottom of some OSFP strangeness. And to pass you have to be able to fix a real broken network
      • In the age of the internet, if you have to pay someone to sit you in a room and teach you like a trained monkey you have serious problems that go way beyond education.

        I went to college to meet chicks.

        • by BlueStrat (756137)

          In the age of the internet, if you have to pay someone to sit you in a room and teach you like a trained monkey you have serious problems that go way beyond education.

          I went to college to meet chicks.

          "If you want to to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library." - Frank Zappa

          "Where's the college library?"

          Strat

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          You go to uni for more than just that and do you have the hardware required to do a physics or other stem degree in your garage.
      • Which is why I want my doctors to be solely educated by google! And the folks who build the planes and cars I ride in.
      • by Sciath (3433615)
        Like some southern red necked female hog said, "Ain't no law a'gine be'n stupid." Anyone can "self medicate" with over-the-counter remedies (i.e. Wikipedia, etc). Understanding is an altogether different horse. And a big part of that comes from the education, personal experience with instructors and rigorous academic structure of a higher education. Unless you insist upon proclaiming yourself another "Einstein", or savant. But even Einstein had a higher education. And savants are only geniuses in one or tw
    • Universities (including the public ones) are a business like any other and are highly sensitive to voting with one's wallet.

      At the one I work at we actually go to great lengths *not* to monitor, record, or police what students do beyond what's needed to keep the peace.
      we also invite students to bring their game consoles in after major releases so we can fine tune stuff to ensure decent latency.

      tl;dr somebody is having power trip there and/or just bought a shiny new piece of oppressionware and checked all
    • Perhaps it is because the university is more about indoctrination than education.

      This reeks of the university administration imposing a policy that the faculty and students will ultimately defeat.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For however many years freedom has left.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well, that's one place I won't be applying for graduate school. Although NIU sounds like a fly by night school anyway... It's UI-UC that's on my radar.

  • by MoFoQ (584566) on Friday August 22, 2014 @06:58PM (#47733597)

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/... [huffingtonpost.com]

    Supposedly the policy applies to employees not students.

    • by wiredlogic (135348) on Friday August 22, 2014 @07:00PM (#47733605)

      Because an institution of higher learning prefers its workers to be dumb and uninformed.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by msauve (701917)
        "Because an institution of higher learning prefers its workers to be dumb and uninformed"

        No...because an employer pays for their employee's Internet access so they can do the employer's business. It's not like there aren't multiple ways to access the Internet.
        • "Because an institution of higher learning prefers its workers to be dumb and uninformed"

          No...because an employer pays for their employee's Internet access so they can do the employer's business. It's not like there aren't multiple ways to access the Internet.

          In other words people will switch to using smartphones and tablets to access Facebook, Wikipedia, politically correct websites, etc... and nothing really changes. Censorship is a game of Whac-A-Mole that the censors will always loose.

          • by penix1 (722987)

            "Because an institution of higher learning prefers its workers to be dumb and uninformed"

            No...because an employer pays for their employee's Internet access so they can do the employer's business. It's not like there aren't multiple ways to access the Internet.

            In other words people will switch to using smartphones and tablets to access Facebook, Wikipedia, politically correct websites, etc... and nothing really changes. Censorship is a game of Whac-A-Mole that the censors will always loose.

            It depends on the

    • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Friday August 22, 2014 @07:05PM (#47733625) Homepage

      That's the schools PR spin, but it's undermined by the fact the policy itself [niu.edu] specifically says it applies to students:

      Northern Illinois University information technology resources, including the electronic communications network (NIUnet) on the NIU campus and off-campus education and research centers, computers attached to this network, and any associated computational resource or service are for the use of persons affiliated with Northern Illinois University, including faculty, staff, emeritus personnel, and students in good standing. Information technology resources are provided by the university to further the university's mission of research, instruction, and public service. The use of these resources should be consistent with this mission, this policy, and the University’s other use, security policies, and other applicable regulations including the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (SOEEA). Pursuant to the NIU Electronic Mail policy, the email system may be utilized for personal messages subject to the limitations set forth in these and other applicable policies and to the extent that personal usage does not interfere with assigned responsibilities. By using NIU services, all individuals, including, but not limited to, employees, students, customers, volunteers, and third parties, unconditionally accept the terms of this policy.

    • I'm not sure if you read the article and checked the block page screen shot, I did. The University spokesperson stated that it was not a block and the student could log in. The image [imgur.com] has no option to bypass or go to a next step, it's a block.

      Next, the spokesperson claimed that the policy only applied to staff at the University. Reading their AUP there is no such restriction to staff, and in fact the first paragraph includes students. Northern Illinois University information technology resources, includi

    • by onproton (3434437)
      1. I am a bit taken aback at the responses referencing this Huffington Post article - a couple of quick notes:
      2. The University policy restricts access to these websites for students as well as staff, in some cases it is possible to still click through to the page after the filter message, but visitors are issued a warning informing them that accessing the site is likely against policy and, in essence, that that they are being watched (as shown in the source referenced in the article).
      3. I cannot speak to the inten
  • Turn it around: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2014 @07:07PM (#47733635)

    An AUP governs the use of campus equipment and services.

    I clicked the link and read the article, and there's gasping outrage about how they're "limiting free speech" by telling students they *also* can't use the campus computer systems for things like political messaging, meetings, rallies, or anything else - in other words, no, you can't spam the student body.

    And for those of you who think that it's not right that they'd limit that sort of usage, think long and hard about this:

    - Campus Christian Ministry decides to start spamming the entire campus with pro-life messages.
    - Young Republicans club start spamming the entire campus with messages calling for the impeachment of Pres. Obama.
    - ROTC program starts spamming the entire campus with messages encouraging students to sign up for military service.

    Where's your unfettered free speech now?

    • Re:Turn it around: (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Richy_T (111409) on Friday August 22, 2014 @07:10PM (#47733647) Homepage

      Doesn't follow. There's a big difference between solicited and unsolicited email.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't get your point. The summary says they blocked access to Wikipedia articles. Does the university library also cuts out definitions of "communism" (or any other term they are afraid of) from their encyclopedias?

    • Re:Turn it around: (Score:4, Informative)

      by lister king of smeg (2481612) on Friday August 22, 2014 @07:30PM (#47733735)

      An AUP governs the use of campus equipment and services.

      I clicked the link and read the article, and there's gasping outrage about how they're "limiting free speech" by telling students they *also* can't use the campus computer systems for things like political messaging, meetings, rallies, or anything else - in other words, no, you can't spam the student body.

      And for those of you who think that it's not right that they'd limit that sort of usage, think long and hard about this:

      - Campus Christian Ministry decides to start spamming the entire campus with pro-life messages.
      - Young Republicans club start spamming the entire campus with messages calling for the impeachment of Pres. Obama.
      - ROTC program starts spamming the entire campus with messages encouraging students to sign up for military service.

      Where's your unfettered free speech now?

      Yeah how dare those conservatives exercise their rights to free speech its not like you can mark them as spam and never hear anything they say again. Hell lets take this a step further lets just curtail all political speech on a public campus, In-fact lets set aside an area where they can say what they think where no one else was to hear it we can call it a free speech zone...

      • Re:Turn it around: (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday August 22, 2014 @08:04PM (#47733889) Journal
        The right to free speech does not mean a university has to provide the publishing infrastructure to make that speech. By logical extension of your standards universities must also provide spray cans so that students can spray paint their thoughts onto the campus buildings. Also Fred Phelps is not a defender of free speech , he's a serial pest who harrases people at family funerals, I really wish more of his victims used the "fighting words" defense as an excuse to beat the shit out of the repulsive little turd.
        • Re:Turn it around: (Score:5, Interesting)

          by lgw (121541) on Friday August 22, 2014 @08:19PM (#47733973) Journal

          right to free speech does not mean a university has to provide the publishing infrastructure to make that speech.

          But this isn't about publishing. This is about web access. What was your point again?

          Also Fred Phelps is not a defender of free speech , he's a serial pest who harrases people at family funerals

          The man is a freaking icon of free speech. Only hateful, harmful, ugly, disagreeable speech needs any protection in the first place. I can't think of a living speaker who offends my more than that guy has. If you don't support his right to free speech, you're simply unclear on the concept.

          • Re:Turn it around: (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Kjella (173770) on Friday August 22, 2014 @09:25PM (#47734267) Homepage

            The man is a freaking icon of free speech. Only hateful, harmful, ugly, disagreeable speech needs any protection in the first place. I can't think of a living speaker who offends my more than that guy has. If you don't support his right to free speech, you're simply unclear on the concept.

            That's not a two way street. Just because all the speech that needs protecting offends someone doesn't mean all offensive speech should have protection. Threats, libel, slander, fraud and perjury are all forms of speech. Playing loud music at 3AM is arguably a form of expression. The "freedom of speech" card is not absolute in any country on earth, even the US.

            • Re:Turn it around: (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Adambomb (118938) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:10AM (#47735569) Journal

              For all I detest the fact, i still hold that anyone should be free to be a complete fucking idiot. If you hold ultra fundamentalist nutjobs as being limitable speech you are simply paving the way for rationalism to be limited in the advent of a fucking moronic demographic spike. Overestimating future generations is kind of what has fucked america over already.

            • by Type44Q (1233630)

              Just because all the speech that needs protecting offends someone doesn't mean all offensive speech should have protection. Threats, libel, slander, fraud and perjury are all forms of speech.

              You're getting speech confused with the consequences - or lack thereof - of said speech. Two separate issues.

        • by DRJlaw (946416)

          The right to free speech does not mean a university has to provide the publishing infrastructure to make that speech.

          No, but it does mean that a public university (note: NIU is a public university, i.e., an institution established by the State of Illinois) which decides to provide a publishing infrastructure cannot the restrict use of that infrastructure based upon the content of what is published without having a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means necessary to achieve that interest.

          Y

        • The right to free speech does not mean a university has to provide the publishing infrastructure to make that speech.

          No shit university can do whatever it wants.. as a result they can expect to be held accountable for propagating indefensible policies. Fact this university is state funded means they have to answer to more than just students.

          By logical extension of your standards universities must also provide spray cans so that students can spray paint their thoughts onto the campus buildings.

          Censoring content is not spray cans sorry.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Conservatives on a college campus? Whaaaatttttt?????

      • Free speech guarantees you the right to say it free from consequences. It says nothing about a guaranteed venue or audience. And any college would have a legitimate interest in blocking that material over their e-mail system on a mass scale. It's happened before:

        "An estimated 3000 [Michigan State University] students protesting the ban on alcohol at Munn Field tailgate parties resulted in police firing tear gas at the crowd. The gathering was planned in advance by an email spread through the student body em

    • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Friday August 22, 2014 @07:31PM (#47733741) Homepage
      What does spamming the entire campus body have to do with accessing a political article on wikipedia?
    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      - Campus Christian Ministry decides to start spamming the entire campus with pro-life messages.
      - Young Republicans club start spamming the entire campus with messages calling for the impeachment of Pres. Obama.
      - ROTC program starts spamming the entire campus with messages encouraging students to sign up for military service.

      Where's your unfettered free speech now?

      Why anybody would be worried about those groups or any other boggles the minds. If the content isn't illegal, then why censor it? Surely if kids are smart enough to be in college, they are smart enough to hit a delete key for content they don't want.

    • by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Friday August 22, 2014 @11:50PM (#47734879) Homepage Journal

      - Campus Christian Ministry decides to start spamming the entire campus with pro-life messages.
      - Young Republicans club start spamming the entire campus with messages calling for the impeachment of Pres. Obama.
      - ROTC program starts spamming the entire campus with messages encouraging students to sign up for military service.

      Where's your unfettered free speech now?

      In my spam folder?

    • by DrEmu (999349) *
      For Heaven's sake. There are those of us who have been thinking "long and hard" about this since we went to college 50 years ago. It's a First Amendment violation pure and simple, and the fact that somebody feels they get to "think about it" is disgusting. There is nothing to think about when faced with censorship. It is the fundamental enemy of mankind.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Someone in IT over the summer was told to put on filtering NOW but some campus administrator. That person then found one quickly and installed it, without checking what it actually filters (although filtering companies do make that tough). There's probably lots of gotcha sites that are filtered at NIU nobody knows about yet.

    • by mpe (36238)
      That person then found one quickly and installed it, without checking what it actually filters (although filtering companies do make that tough).

      It also appears to be fairly common for such companies to not be exactly honest about their filtering criteria either. Especially when it comes to anything "political".
  • http://doit.niu.edu/doit/polic... [niu.edu]

    Using the resources for political activities, including organizing or participating in any political meeting, rally, demonstration, soliciting contributions or votes, distributing material, surveying or polling for information connected to a political campaign, completing political surveys or polling information, and any other activities prohibited under the ethics act and/or other state/federal laws.

    Emphasis mine, and this makes sense from a CYA perspective. The next one though it bizarre:

    Use of personal social media sites, following specific direction to cease or not utilize university equipment or time to an extent or during time periods that would interfere with professional responsibilities, including, but not limited to

    ??? - can somebody explain what the heck this means. Oh wait, next link.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/... [huffingtonpost.com]

    That only applies to employees. I think that's where the confusion is. Students -- unless they are an employee

    Sorry, this was a poorly planned, executed and communicated rollout. Sounds like a new position for Vice President of IT will be opening for a major university soon...

    • Prohibited: "political activities, including organizing or participating in any political meeting, rally, demonstration, soliciting contributions or votes, distributing material, surveying or polling for information connected to a political campaign, completing political surveys or polling information"

      Let's face it, this is fascist bullshit.

      Screams to be ignored, and, of course subverted by surreptitiously using the accounts of university administrators to send out the political information.

      And of course, t

  • A student raised concerns after attempting to access the Wikipedia page for Westboro Baptist Church,

    Aw, that'd be a shame if they couldn't access their totally inconsequential Two Minutes Hate target.

  • I guess this is why this fine academic institution has never crossed my radar. I have never heard it mentioned in any publication, any citation, any contest win. I am not saying that they don't publish squat but that nothing they have published managed to catch my attention. And when I read something in Nature, etc I will check to see which institution the various authors are from to mentally compile a list of intellectually active institutions.

    So as far as I can tell this place is the intellectual oppos
  • by PJ6 (1151747) on Friday August 22, 2014 @10:13PM (#47734497)
    exactly what is "illegal or unethical" about the content of the Wikipedia article on the Westboro Baptist Church [wikipedia.org]?
    • Perhaps we are looking at this the wrong way round?
      Could it be that their intention was to block all of SoMe, politics and wikipedia, to allow students to concentrate, discourage c&p homework, and to encourage students to think for themselves?
      The "think of the children, block the pr0n" is just a cover.

  • by istartedi (132515) on Friday August 22, 2014 @11:04PM (#47734735) Journal

    If the entire student body doesn't shut down the school, or at least picket the office and generate some arrests, they should be horribly ashamed.

    At the University of Virginia, the Board of Visitors fired the president in an unwarranted way. Student protest helped get her reinstated [nytimes.com]. If student action can do that, I'm pretty sure it can get such an absurd policy overturned. You just have to have the brains to recognize it, and the balls to pursue it.

    Anyway, shame on the students if this is allowed to stand.

    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Saturday August 23, 2014 @01:32PM (#47737149) Homepage Journal

      If the entire student body doesn't shut down the school, or at least picket the office and generate some arrests, they should be horribly ashamed.

      In a situation like this there are so many people complicit in intellectual censorship that the only way to deal with it and maintain the school's reputation is to have a special investigator find everybody who signed off on it, everybody who could have objected, and everybody who was complicit and did not specifically and provably object to it, and fire them for cause. Then fire everybody who tries to cover it up and impede the investigation.

      I sure wouldn't send my kid there given the current leadership. Tweaking any one policy will leave the same anti-intellectual stooges in control of the school. There's either a strong pro-intellectual signal sent or the status quo remains.

      So, what's the Board of Trustees' position on this? Typically they don't want to rock any boats and do nothing about such incidents - they love to get wined and dined, collect a stipend, and rubber stamp administrative decisions while occasionally approving a hire of a search firm to find a new President. The old days of active Trustees are nearly extinguished.

      • No, one way to handle it is to form an investigative committee to research the problem and bring back the recommendation to open up the internet. (The specific recommendation is the unwritten part of the committee charter.) This is a University, you realize (and firing tenured faculty "for cause" is neither easy nor risk-free).

  • by Voyager529 (1363959) <voyager529@y a h o o . com> on Friday August 22, 2014 @11:47PM (#47734871)

    According to one of the comments in TFA, https:/// [https] worked fine, so they were only blocking HTTP. This leaves all the other suspects to their devices - the cornucopia of IM clients, VPN traffic, torrent traffic, usenet, diaspora/retroshare, in-game discussion via Steam or Second Life, IRC, etc. Sure, some of those are summarily blocked, but it seems they're doing such a poor job of acting in malice that I'd deem it sufficient to chalk the issue up to incompetence instead.

    • exactly.
      When you're blocking everything, you're blocking nothing.
      Instead of having a clear view of what was on the mind of students, these students will now use anonymous proxies, vpn , tor and the like to still access this content.
      In turn, the university will have lost control or at least oversight of what the students were actually accessing.
  • Than a college campus. Good Job and All Hail

  • The question is why? What do they hope to achieve with this kind of censorship. I can understand wanting to censor sites that promote and enable illegal activities. I can understand K-12 schools trying to censor porn and violence (doesn't work but at least trying keep parents happy, BTW). So what do they hope to achieve with blocking Wikipedia and other sites? What's their intended outcome? And if they're blocking individual pages, who's combing through the entire internet and deciding what to allow and dis

  • This position that the university has taken will have definite chilling effects on academic freedom. It is clearly inconsistent with their mission as a research university, and I sincerely hope they reconsider this policy.
  • Guess it depends on who "owns" the internet access at niu. Prsumably this only pertains to university computers so 3g and 4g devices are unaffected. The question then is whether students should be allowed to use privately funded internet access by basically renters or tenants. Most private business have internet policys. Dont see the damages here.

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