University’s Facebook ban will not succeed

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

This past week, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology declared a week-long ban on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter. According to a report on National Public Radio (NPR), the provost of the university, Eric Darr, felt strongly that his students needed to consider the ways in which their lives would change if they no longer had access to social networking. “Often there are behaviors, habits, ways we use technology that we may ourselves not even be able to articulate because we’re not aware of them,” Darr told NPR reporters.

Being a college student myself, I am often overwhelmed by the amount of time we spend on these social networking sites. I certainly applaud Darr’s intention of encouraging students to spend less time online. However, I’m skeptical that a university-wide ban is really the most effective means of adjusting Internet consumption habits.

Considering that the administration can only block social networking sites on university-owned computers, a ban only ensures that students are not using social media while on campus. This does nothing for their social media use off campus. Furthermore, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, similarly to Carnegie Mellon, is a technology-focused school whose students likely have the capabilities to access banned sites regardless of the technology set up by the administration. In fact, in an update published after the story was originally broadcast on NPR, Harrisburg University student Nathaniel Clarke commented, “I know of at least 10 people who have bypassed it and, you can say, hacked into Facebook.”

These issues are relatively minor in comparison to the real question brought up by Harrisburg University’s actions: What sorts of issues do colleges and universities have the right to weigh in on, and with what force? The use of social media sites is an opinion-based issue. And while arguments can be made for social media resulting in falling grades, less meaningful social interactions, or increased narcissism, the choice to use social media is generally one made on the basis of individual preference. My concern with Harrisburg University’s decision is primarily based on the fact that an individual’s choice to use Facebook or Twitter is not directly affecting the university as an institution and has relatively little effect on academic interests. The idea that a university can make a claim that its students should not use a website because of the provost’s own subjective judgment is ridiculous. Students should be able to interact with their peers using whatever means they desire, regardless of the opinions of their administration.