Editorial: Give Us Back Our Facebook Groups

The Editorial Board

The Facebook groups for each year’s U of T Law class provide an important platform for communication between students. They allow students to share information—to promote events, hunt for roommates, and ask for lecture notes. The groups also serve as forums for discussing student concerns at the law school. Or at least they used to.

In past years, students have used class Facebook groups to air the difficulties, frustrations, and disputes that they encounter during their time at law school. Often, these problems have involved the administration. When students were asked to choose between power outlets and desk space for writing final exams; when they were disappointed with the lack of student input into the decanal selection process; when they encountered professors recycling exam problems—they took to Facebook to discuss the problem with the student community, and to organise a response.

The student Facebook groups were once organised by students, for students. Since 2014, however, U of T Law’s admissions office has created the Facebook groups and retained control over them. Professor Benjamin Alarie and admissions director Jerome Poon-Ting are the admins for the Class of 2017, 2018, and presumably 2019 Facebook groups. This is inappropriate for at least two reasons.

First, as group admins, Professor Alarie and Mr. Poon-Ting both grant access to the groups and have the power to remove students from them. Mr. Poon-Ting used this power to remove certain upper-year students from the Class of 2018 Facebook group last summer. He said that he did so because he had an “overall communication strategy” concerning when to “launch [the upper-year] presence on the group page” and that he would “assist with passing info along” until then. He later asserted that he removed the students because he did not recognise their names. Still, beyond perhaps ensuring that incoming students get into the groups, the U of T Law administration should play no role in governing the groups’ membership. Students can decide for themselves whom to admit and whom to remove.

Second, the mere presence of U of T Law administrators in the groups allows them to surveil everything that any student posts or likes. This has a chilling effect on student expression. We have heard from many students that they are unwilling to comment on certain issues, or that they restrict what they say, in light of the presence of U of T Law administrators. It is essential that students have a shared space where they can speak freely about issues of common concern without administration oversight and surveillance.

The administration has suggested that it views the Facebook groups as part of its “communication strategy.” But the Faculty of Law can already communicate to students through its email listservs, Facebook page, Twitter account, Tumblr, and website. Students have only one online platform for discussion with each other.

We call upon the U of T Law administration to remove themselves from all student Facebook groups immediately and to appoint Students’ Law Society (SLS) representatives as group admins instead. We understand that it is necessary to ensure that admitted students are granted access to these groups. This could be addressed by allowing the SLS to send out the invitation to admitted students to join the Facebook groups.

If the U of T Law administration wishes to continue exercising control over the student Facebook groups, we call upon the SLS to create alternate groups for students to join.