Officials say spam emails caused ASU to block access to petition site

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ASU has blocked access to petition website change.org, citing spam issues. A Tumblr post from December claims ASU blocked the website to censor a student petition about the cost of attendance. (Cydney McFarland/DD)

Unsolicited spam emails from petition website change.org forced ASU to block access as well as outbound emails to the site, university officials said.

A statement released by ASU spokeswoman Julie Newberg said ASU began blocking messages from the website in December after discovering it was a source of spam emails.

Change.org is a website that tries to promote social change through online petitions.

“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, which is the definition of spam,” Newberg said.

Newberg also said ASU is blocking all outbound connections to the change.org server. ASU routinely blocks servers to reduce risk to students, faculty and staff, Newberg said, but no examples of websites ASU has blocked other than change.org had been provided by Thursday evening.

“We respect the rights of all individuals to express their opinions,” Newberg said. “However, we must reserve the right to protect the use of our limited and valuable network resources for legitimate academic, research and administrative uses.”

Newberg said the incident is not related to the ASURITE system hacking that occurred last month.

Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, a program devoted to creating innovative digital media, said he would be stunned if ASU was blocking the entire site.

“I don’t understand the rationale for blocking a website in addition to email … it just doesn’t make sense to me,” Gillmor said.

A Tumblr blog post on Dec. 7, 2011, accused ASU of censorship and blocking the freedom of expression of students, staff and faculty. The post read, in part, “Not only is this outrageous, but it is a violation of First Amendment rights of both ASU students as well as the rights of Change.org.”

The Tumblr post claimed ASU blocked change.org because of a petition created by ASU students called “Arizona State University: Reduce the costs of education for Arizona State University students.”

Jenn Ettinger, media manager for Free Press, a nonprofit organization for media reform, said the organization is investigating the matter. Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said ASU could be in violation of the First Amendment at worst and that the decision was, at least, “extreme and wrongheaded.”

“If this is not violating the First Amendment, then definitely the spirit of the law,” he said.

Change.org said it is aware of the block, and the website will release a statement in a few days, change.org Director of Communications Benjamin Joffe-Walt said.

Contact the reporter at josselyn.berry@asu.edu

Comments

  1. desertmonkey says:

    uh-humm.
    there ARE ways to end around blocked sites at schools or other narrow minded institutions.
    these kids either know how or can figure it out soon enough.

    are our schools now beginning to seem like the protesters in despot countries.
    this is shameful.

  2. Dr. George Richter, CMfgE says:

    Blocking free speech is not worthy of a quality American Educational Institution.
    Years ago the Univ. of Minnesota started using the technique of inviting the lead and active protesters into discussions with the Institution. The process of ‘defining’ the complaints and then ‘hearing various inputs discussing the problem’ would drag of so long that the protestors would weary and drop out. After all, schools eagerly probe into such problems, seeking solutions.
    Of coourse, the UofM never admitted that this was a ‘strategy’.

  3. Robert Orndorff says:

    On the other hand, one could simply enroll in a main land Chinese university and enjoy the equivalent free speech/information access as one apparently would at ASU. A joke school in a hate state.

  4. Eric Schmidt says:

    Does ASU receive any funding from the Koch brothers?

  5. Eric Haywood says:

    “Spam is a mass mailing to different email address from one entity, undertaken for the purposes of financial gain. Change.org is the inverse. It solicits the masses to mail just one entity, and the petition is undertaken for the purpose of social change or altering a law or policy, not for for financial gain.”

    No spam was ever sent to any ASU student. ASU is full of crap.

    As the publisher of thedailysh­it.com and the author of the petition hosted by Change.org which can be found at;

    http://www­.change.or­g/petition­s/arizona-­state-boar­d-of-regen­ts-reduce-­the-costs-­of-educati­on-for-ari­zona-state­-universit­y-students

    It has been my experience as a student at ASU that ASU is not interested in fostering an environmen­t that is respectful of the 1st Amendment.­..Nor am I of the opinion that ASU is concerned about the quality of education that it is tasked to provide. What I do believe is that ASU is far more interested in the financial exploitati­on of students above all other things…I believe that ASU is failing it’s students and society as a result.

    In other words, ASU cares about the money it can generate from the 72,000 plus students that are currently enrolled. We are nothing more than cows to be milked. Sheep to be sheared. We are livestock.

    We, as students, are there for ASU. ASU is not there for us.

    p.s. The Downtown Devil appears to be nothing more than a purveyor or propaganda for the ASU administration…

  6. Tegan says:

    Seriously? This is so simple.

    When you sign a petition on Change.org, they automatically log your email into their newsletter distribution list. They send 5 to 6 emails a week, and since it’s a newsletter, the receiver (the ASU students) don’t respond back.

    Every email service has pings to block spam emails, and chances are a frequent newsletter that is text and image heavy and sends out multiple times a week to non-responsive users gets pinged as spam.

    This is seriously basic spam/email knowledge, Eric Haywood. I’m not sure why you think it’s some conspiracy when it’s really just basic spam algorithms.

    Maybe if you spent less time with the tinfoil hat on and more time looking into how spam actually works, you wouldn’t be losing your shit over this.

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