Orwellian University Blocks Students’ Access to Harmful Sites, For ‘Civility’

August 21, 2014

By Robby Soave at Reason Online

Northern Illinois University is restricting students’ access to certain websites. For their own good, of course. The internet is a dangerous place, and we wouldn’t want students inadvertently coming across something controversial, now would we?

Students who attempt to visit an unauthorized site through the campus network are redirected to a creepy “Web Page Access Warning.” The “warning” is that the students are about to go somewhere that probably violates NIU internet policy. One student reported the policy to Reddit after he received a warning for trying to access the Westboro Bapist Church’s Wikipedia page. That’s right, its Wikipedia page.

NIU cites “common sense, decency, ethical use, civility, and security,” as its various rationales for the policy. Yes, a public institution of higher learning believes that it is just common sense—and ethical—to dissuade students from visiting websites deemed harmful by administrators.

Susan Kruth of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education writes that NIU’s internet policy is laughably unconstitutional:

Whether students are prohibited from visiting a website altogether or simply greeted by this bizarre threat of punishment, NIU’s enforcement of its policy is an egregious act of censorship. ..

While a corporation like Ford or General Electric might have valid reasons for limiting Internet access to some sites (for instance, to promote employee productivity), there’s a vast—and obvious—difference between private employees and public college students. The fact that the Reddit user who relayed his experience with the Internet filter was simply trying to access information about the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) paints a disturbing picture about the breadth of NIU’s censorship efforts. It seems that NIU students who want to use the Internet to find out why the WBC is so controversial are simply out of luck.

As Kruth notes, the policy instructs students not to use the internet to visit social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, conduct business, or participate in political activity. Some rebellious student should try buy an advertisement on a political candidate’s Facebook page; campus security officers would no doubt escort the rulebreaker to Room 101 for immediate re-education.

FIRE is “looking into the situation,” according to Kruth.

Schools: Northern Illinois University