Harrisburg University Starts “Social Media Blackout”

On Monday, beginning at midnight, the IT team at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology will temporarily restrict students, faculty, and staff from accessing Facebook, “its social media kin” such as Twitter, and various wikis via computers connected to the campus network.  According to an Inside Higher Ed report, the intriguing weeklong “social media blackout” is a school-wide experiment “designed to parse how one lives with social media”- and or in this case, how one lives without them.

HUST students specifically will participate and then write reflective essays on the experience.  There will also be related expert panels and other events throughout the week.

The Inside Higher Ed piece: “‘It’s not that, as an institution, we hate Facebook,’ says [the school’s provost].  Rather, 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, he says. That colleagues with offices 300 yards apart communicate predominantly via the Web is interesting . . . and merely talking about it does not dig deeply enough. ‘I wanted to make it real for people- not to make it an intellectual exercise,’ he says.”

Facebook and other social media are dead to HUST students, faculty, and staff this week.

My take: Does this smell somewhat like a publicity stunt as much as a worthwhile experiment? A tiny bit, yes.  (Let’s be honest, who had heard of HUST prior to this?  In that sense, I offer my kudos- slick PR move.)  Is it as much a symbolic blackout as an impacting one? Yes, definitely, considering the short timeframe and the fact that only computers on the campus network are being restricted.  (Basically, individuals who want to get around the blockade will not have too hard of a time, which is probably how an imposed campus-wide experiment of this type should be.)  Is it a little uncaring toward students and faculty? Yes. The Inside Higher Ed report notes that most HUSTers were not aware of the experiment as of Thursday.  It probably would have been best to give everyone much more notice and a more distant starting date to ensure this does not cause people problems above just inconvenience.

Overall though, it seems like a valid undertaking- and one that might be worthy of replicating for a student press feature piece or two.  “The Social Network” premiere is in three weeks.  A package of stories on the state of social media seems timely. Have staffers or willing student readers engage in a blackout of their own, and write about it.  I mentioned this idea to one student editor.  His response: “That’s cool, and we can tweet about it while we’re doing it.” Sigh.  #Epic fail.

One Response to “Harrisburg University Starts “Social Media Blackout””
  1. Waa Ching Hu says:

    Well…the Provost is a moron. HU is a non-residential campus with a Starbucks (with free Wi-FI ) half a block away in the Whitaker center. The ban was nothing but an exercise in getting publicity.

    -Waa Ching Hu
    Check out my blog if you want to see me ceaselessly mocking the Provost http://watchinghu.wordpress.com/ Hey, it’s funny and there is a baby monkey riding backwards on pig.