A Tumblr blog calling for the University to unblock the petition website Change.org began circulating the Internet Thursday, causing many students to become concerned that their First Amendment rights had been violated.
ASU removed access to the site through any University server or email network.
In the original blog post the author wrote, “ASU does not want its students, faculty, or employees signing this petition and has resorted to blatant and unlawful censorship in order to block the freedom of expression of its students and faculty.”
The petition was asking for signatures to support lowering the cost of tuition at ASU.
The Tumblr blog is dated Dec. 7, 2011, and the original author is unknown.
ASU said the University Technology Office discovered spam emails were sent from the group that originally posted the petition to change.org, according to a statement released to The State Press Thursday evening.
“ASU began blocking messages from the Change.org server in December after it was discovered as the source of such a spamming action,” said the University statement. “Although the individual who sent the email may not consider himself a spammer, he acquired a significant number of ASU email addresses which he used to send unsolicited, unwanted email.”
Change.org Senior Organizer William Winters said the organization was unaware until Thursday that its website was blocked by ASU.
Winters said he was contacted about the Tumblr blog by the Internet freedom organization Free Press, and began to investigate whether First Amendment rights violations had occurred.
“We take any violation of Internet freedom and student First Amendment rights to be very serious,” he said.
Winters’ organization is in no way accusing the University of these violations, he said.
The University responded to student concerns regarding First Amendment violations by stating: “We respect the rights of all individuals to express their opinions. However, we must reserve the right to protect the use of our limited and valuable network resources for legitimate academic research and administrative uses.”
Change.org said the organization is currently validating claims that its website was blocked by the University, according to a statement released to The State Press Thursday evening.
“Change.org provides a valuable platform for people across the world who want to take action on issues they care about and it’d be a shame if ASU were intentionally denying students that service,” the statement said.
Interdisciplinary studies sophomore Brenden Pantilione heard about the blog post Thursday between classes and immediately began a Facebook group to raise awareness about students’ concerns.
Pantilione said she later discovered from administration officials that the change.org website had actually been blocked by the University in order to reduce the risk of spam emailing to ASU accounts.
“I made the group and invited a bunch of people,” Pantilione said. “In less than three hours it had gone to a hundred people attending and a thousand people invited, and (I received) a response from administration already. I think this kind of shows the power of social media to illicit a response if you are trying to seek answers.”
She removed the Facebook page after University officials contacted her.
Pantilione said the University took too long to inform students about the spam emails and explain why the site was blocked.
“I kind of question why it took this long to issue a statement,” Pantilione said. “Again, if that is the real reason, I hope the UTO finds the answer and allows this website to be accessed again.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org