Universities Experiment With Blocking Social Media Sites Like Facebook And Twitter

September 10, 2010

Student with Computer Talking on the PhoneHarrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania will block social media websites for a week as an experiment to see how students, faculty and staff fare without them.

The ban on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger, and Moodle, the university's learning management system, will begin Monday, according to Inside Higher Ed. "It is about pausing to evaluate the extent to which social media are woven into the professional and personal lives of the people on the Harrisburg campus, and contemplating what has been gained and what has been sacrificed," says Eric Darr, the university's provost and originator of the idea. After having time to reflect on how and why they use social media, students will be asked to write an essay describing their experiences.

Similar experiments have taken place at schools around the country, but they typically are voluntary, according to The Washington Post. For example, earlier this year about 200 University of Maryland students gave up all socializing that required any technology for 24 hours. At Trinity Western University in British Columbia, Robert Doede, an associate professor of philosophy, assigned an extra credit project challenging his ethics students to avoid using Facebook for a semester and to journal about their experiences as well.

The Badger Herald reports that the majority of the 800 students at Harrisburg University welcome the experiment. However, a number of students and faculty likely will be upset. Some students said they will simply use their phones to communicate. "We are a culture of conversation," says Steven Infanti, Harrisburg University spokesperson. "The students will jump to the next technology quickly."

Darr says blocking the websites, rather than requesting students abstain from using them, allows for a shared, campus-wide experience, per The Chronicle of Higher Education. Darr insists the block is not censorship. "We're not denying students, staff, and faculty the right to connect to Facebook since the university network is only one avenue to get to these sites," he adds. "They can drive down the road to a place with wireless if they really want."

Darr's approach is oppressive, says David Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media and communications at the University of Texas at Dallas. He believes these experiments are more successful when students participate because they want to.

If next week goes well, Charles Palmer, associate professor of new media and design, says he'll anticipate future tests for longer time periods, reports Inside Higher Ed. For now, however, he is trying to determine how he is going to deal with next week. "When the big switch gets hit, it's going to be like, 'Oh my gosh, how did we do this before?'" he says. "It'll be like detox."

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"A Social-Media Blackout at Harrisburg U.," chronicle.com, September 9, 2010, Paige Chapman

"College Blocks Students From Facebook, Twitter For Week Long Social Experiment," badgerherald.com, September 9, 2010, Patrick Porwoll

"Harrisburg University Plans Social Media Blackout," washingtonpost.com, September 9, 2010, Jenna Johnson

"Social Media Blackout," insidehighered.com, September 9, 2010, Steve Kolowich

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