Northern Illinois University faced a storm of haterade from the Internet this week after several news outlets reported the institution had banned students from visiting a slew of popular websites while on campus, including Facebook and Wikipedia.
But a spokesman for the university told The Huffington Post the rumors are "ridiculous."
The accusation that NIU had banned these websites from their campus Internet service started after a student posted on Reddit a screenshot of a "Web Page Access Warning" that popped up on his screen while attempting to access the Wikipedia page for Westboro Baptist Church.
"I just got settled into my new dorm. Found that the university has adopted a new policy that blocks many of the sites I normally go to. Is this common for a state-run university?" user darkf posted to Reddit.
The Reddit thread quickly caught the attention of news outlets like the DailyDot, which referred to the institution as 'Buzzkill University', and Jezebel, whose headline for the story read: "Northern Illinois University Bans Social Media, Happiness for Students."
Paul Palian, the university's director of media and public relations, says NIU is "in the process of modernizing [its] network capabilities" and that warning screen is just a new feature to protect the Internet server from external threats.
"The system does not block the content so much, it's to block the threats, the malicious code. That's what we're trying to do with these firewalls in place," Palian told HuffPost. "So our policy protects us from sites that have shown high frequency from being malicious or unethical. You can still have the option to go through and access [these sites], you just have to enter your NIU credentials first. It's a work in progress."
NIU's recently updated Acceptable Use Policy outlines which types of websites may be subject to this new security wall. Palian also clarified that a portion of the policy that deems unacceptable the “use of social media sites… including... Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc.,” applies only to staff.
"That only applies to employees. I think that's where the confusion is. Students -- unless they are an employee -- they're not subject to this [policy]," he said. "If you are a student employee, you are still an employee, that means you don't use state resources for personal use."
"As a research and educational institution there might be reasons to access porn sites and things like that," he added. "And nobody's sitting over students' shoulders saying they can't look at Facebook."