Restricted access

Four reasons why banning social media on campus is a bad idea

Aligarh Muslim University is latest institution to limit internet use.

The students and staff of Aligarh Muslim University were left befuddled and angry on Sunday when they could not log onto Facebook. Every time someone tried to access the site during working hours on the university internet system, the screen went blank. When asked, the university authorities admitted to blocking social media access on campus. They did so, they said, because it “distracted” students.

“The ban is in the interest of the university,” Rahat Abrar, the university’s public relations officer told The Times of India. “It will protect the interests of students and teachers. There were complaints that students were getting distracted by it.”

This is not the first time an embargo has been placed on social media on campus. Across the country, universities are freely imposing such bans, citing “distraction” and “congested networks”.

But it is debatable whether these injunctions are effective. It is also questionable if the idea does any good. To most people, the proscriptions are misplaced. They smack of some education official's ignorance of the way the internet works and of the benefits brought by social media.

1. Access continues

Most students remain unperturbed by the bans since they have figured how to bypass the blocks and access their favourite websites. IIT Delhi, for instance, banned internet access from 1 am to 6 am, but its students can be still found online late at night.

“We are allowed to use our own dongles and mobile internet,” said Abhishek Gupta, an IIT Delhi alumnus. "Those who want campus internet go to research labs, etc. and use it anyway."

Banaras Hindu University students reportedly use virtual private networks or anonymous browsers, such as Tor, to access the websites blocked by the authorities.

2. Barrier to information and interaction

Social media helps build connections and improve interaction with users around the world. Not being able to tap into this has incensed the faculty at the Aligarh Muslim University.

“This is unfortunate,” Aftab Alam, secretary of the AMU teachers’ association told The Times of India. “Facebook is not just about entertainment, it is also information. It serves as alternative media, as another source of information. The ban has affected our right to know and share.”

Students point out that the bans obstruct communication among classmates and project teams collaborating through Facebook groups and pages. “The most popular mode of interacting with classmates and sharing information about exam material and seminars is Facebook,” said Veda Nadendla, a student at the Madras School of Social Work.

3. Hinders promotion of campus events

Students use social media heavily these days to promote campus events, such as cultural festivals and seminars. The process costs nothing and is very effective. Banning social media or the internet makes publicising programmes difficult, say students from the University of Delhi.

“Our political science festival Chanakaya depends on the participation of students from other colleges" said Meghana Rathore, a student of political science at Delhi University’s Shaheed Bhagat Singh College. "The only way to invite them is through social media. We keep updating information on Facebook and Twitter. A ban on social media will cause a big drop in footfalls."

4. Only a cosmetic measure

Aligarh Muslim University students say the social media ban will not increase anyone’s efficiency. “The teachers who want to waste time online will find a way,” said law student Fawaz Shaheen. “The ban is only a cosmetic measure to enforce authority. We do not worry much about it.”

There has surely been no change in the productivity of the students of IIT Guwahati, where internet access is barred in hostel rooms from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays. Students say they still miss classes. “The internet is available on the campus and we can always go out of the hostel to have fun," said MTech student Ramyani Chakrabarty. "Not having internet does not stop us from missing classes. Sometimes, we just need a break.”

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