SPAMitsnot

Greg Lukianoff and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have the story of a Michigan State student government leader found guilty of "spam" for sending out an email seeking support for opposition to a university plan to shorten the academic year.

Lukianoff writes:

After FIRE broke the story, national media outlets had a few questions for MSU: namely, how exactly is MSU's anti-spam policy consistent with the university's legal obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of its students and faculty? University spokesman Kent Cassella responded that MSU's anti-spam policy, which limits unsolicited e-mail of all kinds to about 20-30 e-mails over two days -- unless, of course, MSU grants prior approval-- is "not a free speech issue." Cassella argued that a viewpoint-neutral policy is inherently constitutional.

This is absurd. It's not just that requiring prior approval is a prior restraint. It's not just that you can bet your bottom dollar that prior approval is based on content. The crowning absurdity here is that MSU thinks that there is nothing wrong with placing a completely arbitrary limit on the number of people you can e-mail about a serious issue of public concern at a public university. So much for the right to petition government for redress of grievances. Apparently, MSU's IT department has overruled the Bill of Rights.

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  • ||

    "Oh please, dear? For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint."

  • Geotpf||

    Is this any spam to any accounts (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, whatever), or to accounts that MSU owns and controls?

    Let's take a dead tree example. Banning publication of a newspaper is bad, banning the right of somebody to put them in faculty mailboxes isn't.

    The university has the right to control who can access their computer network, IMHO.

  • robc||

    It was spam.

    Unsolicited bulk email is spam, whether penis pills or politics.

  • Elemenope||

    I am pretty much automatically suspect of cases that come from FIRE, from my past dealings with them. Still, if this is true and has fidelity to the actual circumstances, MSU Admin deserves to twist in the wind a little.

  • ||

    The University would be in a much better position here if they hadn't said that you could send spam with their approval.

    And who wants to be that all kinds of "unsolicited email" goes out to students from MSU admin?

    The whole thing sounds like they aren't concerned so much about spam, as they are about spam from the wrong people.

  • </||

    I am pretty much automatically suspect of cases that come from FIRE, from my past dealings with them.

    Did you have one of those black face fraternity parties and put the pics up on myspace/facebook?

  • ||

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

    MSU is not congress. How does the 1st ammendent apply here? I am not arguing- just looking for enlightenment.

  • SpongePaul||

    20 to 30 emails over 2 days. jeez. my e-mail addy is around 100+ people easy. if i send out a league action from thier site, if i was being educated there. i would be in violation of the policy from just e-mailing and sending jokes etc with my buddies on a daily basis.

  • squarooticus||

    MSU is not congress. How does the 1st ammendent apply here? I am not arguing- just looking for enlightenment.


    What if Congress set up a censorship commission empowered to restrict speech, and didn't actually pass any laws restricting speech on its own?

    I think Congress delegating to others with the same monopoly on force the power to restrict speech is equivalent to Congress itself restricting that speech. Any other interpretation creates an absurd and easily-thwarted scenario.

  • Elemenope||

    MSU is not congress. How does the 1st amendment apply here? I am not arguing- just looking for enlightenment.

    MSU is a creature of the state, being (heavily!) supported by state and federal grants and loans. As such, it's ability to control or suppress communications, even on an infrastructure they control, is pretty strictly limited to compelling state interests.

  • the innominate one||

    Mike M - check out the Incorporation Doctrine

  • ||

    Here's what I would want to know: if these students had gone and copied the same message using university copying machines and then walked around and taped this same message to the doors of the same professors, would there have been an issue?

    As someone who deals with filtering spam for my .org, I concur that any unsolicited bulk email is spam, but laying down the hammer over 391 messages? I call bullshit. The school's administration was obviously looking for a nail to hang this issue on and they found one.

    There's more to this story.

  • Ska||

    I'm all for fucking with university authority figures, but they don't have to make it easy for you and let you use their shit to do it because of the 1st amendment. Leave campus, send emails. Or do it the old fashioned way - hand out flyers and such. How much unsolicited email do you actually read anyway?

  • Elemenope||

    I'm all for fucking with university authority figures, but they don't have to make it easy for you and let you use their shit to do it because of the 1st amendment. Leave campus, send emails. Or do it the old fashioned way - hand out flyers and such. How much unsolicited email do you actually read anyway?

    If it were a private institution, the formulation "their shit" is accurate. However, since it is a public, tax-funded institution, I think it is more accurately characterized as "everybody's shit", which everyone can use. I agree it might have been smarter to use an outside SMTP or webmail server, but if you've already paid to use one thing why be required to use another?

  • ||

    How much unsolicited email do you actually read anyway?

    There's this finance minister from Togo who is going to make me rich. And England has this internet lottery that I've won, it's going to make me rich too.

    Any day now I'll be able to hire people to preview my e-mail.

  • the innominate one||

    JW - the last university I was at, you had to get approval stamps on flyers to be posted on the school's bulletin boards. AFAIK, any flyer could be posted and would be approved, but flyers without the approval stamp were removed regularly.

  • Ska||

    In my haste, my post comes off as half-assed and somewhat retarded.

    A state university only seems like a quasi-public entity to me (enrollment/tuition issues). Can I just go to any SUNY school and get an email address and use their library even though I'm not enrolled? I'm asking because I don't really know. How do you determine what the public funding is spent on?

    As for the "read unsolicited email", how far do you get in the correspondence before you click delete? The whole thing or do you read "Dear Student, The Board of Regents of the State of...." then delete?

    I was trying to be practical, which is not really the best response all of the time.

  • ||

    If it were a private institution, the formulation "their shit" is accurate. However, since it is a public, tax-funded institution, I think it is more accurately characterized as "everybody's shit", which everyone can use. I agree it might have been smarter to use an outside SMTP or webmail server, but if you've already paid to use one thing why be required to use another?

    Everybody can use it? I can have an email account from Michigan state? Or all residents of Michigan can? Can I live in their dorms too?

    I think the university's action is worthy of contempt, but I think there are other factors than free speech you have to consider when we are talking about use of a college's computer resources. Do posters here think the college would be wrong to prohibit use of the computer's email accounts for sending actual spam?

  • b||

    except that, y'know, there isn't an amendment guaranteeing that the government will let you live in its buildings nor is there one guaranteeing a state email. but if the state gives you an email, they don't get to really be picky as to how you use it.

    and no, it isn't wrong to prohibit the sending of actual spam (email completely devoid of any ideas of merit), but one man's spam is another man's musubi.

  • kenb||

    What is "spam" has nothing to do with whether or not it contains anything of merit. "Spam" is "the same thing, lots of times". That's pretty much an absolute standard.

  • ||

    Universities don`t let any one out of their controlling organization submit anything that interferes with their rule.Just go outside their system.

  • ||

    You poor babies on another tear...the university seems to be saying that using their facilities
    as you want without observing constraints put in place violates their regulations...now how does that become the constitutional crises you elevate it into being? Relax. No wonder you lads always have your knickers in a dither.

  • ||

    I'd want more information. On the one hand, I see nothing wrong with MSU limiting the spamming of university email addresses. If the approval process is tainted by content concerns, then complain about the approval process.

    On the other hand, this is a student government member addressing students on an issue of legitimate interest to the university community. How does student government generally contact students in similar situations? I get regular emails from groups I'm a member of. I usually don't read them, but I don't consider them spam.

  • Ryan||

    He who owns the press has the right to use said press(and noone else). In is within the MSU's rights to restrict using their system in this manner. It just make them look really bad.

  • pete||

    Spam is en epidemic. The only response possible is to limit unsolicited emails regardless of content. One of the really cool tricks of the spammers is to get inside the organizations email directory and then send their spam with email addresses that look like they came from within the organization. Yahoo , Aol and other email providers constantly label Universities and colleges as spammers and then block all emails coming from those places. It is a pain in the ass to have to constantly get the blocks removed after one of these spam attacks.

  • ||

    "The only response possible is to limit unsolicited emails regardless of content." Yeah. Now about that crap in my email from the University administration.

    This is blockheadedness at best.

  • Tom||

    It's interesting to see reason.com getting overrun with statists.

    Michigan State is attempting to stiffle the flow of information by placing an arbitary inhibitor on its delivery system. As a state-funded entity they simply don't have that authority even if they want it.

    FIRE may not be perfect buy I'm thankful for Lukianoff and his colleagues because university administrators often have this grandiose ego and wield a disproportionate amount of power--this coming from a tenured professor at a state-funded institution (not in Michigan).

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