FIU social media bans threaten to isolate international students

Picture of the Green Library. | Via Flickr

Alexander Luzula | Assistant News Director

Back in April, FIU banned several social media apps from the university’s network and devices. The ban followed a statewide emergency amendment issued by the Florida Board of Governors, citing the potential national security threat these apps pose. 

While coverage of the amendment has focused on the bill’s banning of the social media platform TikTok, members of the FIU community are sounding the alarm about the negative impact of the VKontakte, Tencent QQ and WeChat prohibition; apps used by international students to communicate with friends and family back home overseas.

The FIU chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, in collaboration with student and faculty activist coalition Free FIU, released a joint statement condemning the BOG and FIU’s implementation of the amendment as, “attacking our freedom of expression and advancing Sinophobia to ‘fight China.’”

“Ultimately, all it’s doing is advancing xenophobia and Sinophobia against Chinese-Americans and Asian-Americans generally,” said Maria Franzblau, YDSA member and writer of the joint statement. “ It impacts international students by restricting their ability to contact family members they might be able to contact on apps like WeChat on university wifi,” 

“We view as yet another restriction on freedom of expression from this state administration which, as disappointing as it is, doesn’t surprise us,” said Franzblau. 

SGA senator and international student Tiara Campbell echoed similar sentiments emphasizing the toll borne by international students. 

 “To take [apps like WeChat and VKontakte] away from them could… cause various mental health problems and cause them to feel very disconnected from their families,” said Campbell. “Even though it wasn’t the university’s decision,  I think that the school should be more mindful of how these things affect students especially because we’re an international school and we should cater to all, not just American students.”

Campbell, having studied abroad in China, recounted the importance of having these online support networks.

“WeChat is their WhatsApp, and they’re struggling to connect to their family members… and to not be able to do so could cause various mental health effects.”

Franzblau advocated for student solidarity, encouraging those particularly affected to turn out in any way that they could, such as the recent demonstrations at the Board of Trustees meeting, in which YDSA members interrupted the proceedings and protested against the university’s cooperation with HB 99.

“I think we should extend solidarity to Asian-American students and we should raise a united front for both academic freedom and general freedom of expression against a governor who wants to restrict that freedom of expression and against a board of trustees at our university with every new order and every new restriction that this Governor imposes.”

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