Forgotten Freshman forgotten again

After a brief fix in June 2018, first years have reported that they are unable to join McGill community groups. The McGill Facebook community is open to any user with an email linked to a McGill domain—meaning that it ends in ‘mcgill.ca’ or ‘mail.mcgill.ca’—but the resurging glitch blocks some users from joining the community despite linking their McGill emails to their accounts. New students at Bishop’s University, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McMaster University, and Concordia University have also voiced the same complaint.

In Oct. 2017, Keating Reid, U1 Arts, made a Facebook group to help new students with the fallout: McGill’s Forgotten Freshmen, was an online community space for those who could not join McGill’s online groups.

Reid was surprised that the glitch had resurfaced again but also felt that the failure to fix it was typical behaviour on the part of Facebook, particularly given that Canadian university students are not the largest cohort of the platform’s users.

“It might have to do with the fact that McGill email addresses don’t end in ‘.edu’ like most American universities’ do,” Reid said. “It comes down to these kinds of bugs being a low priority for Facebook.”

The Forgotten Freshmen group eventually became a catch-all group where students could post events, advertisements for sublets, course-specific questions, and theories about the source of the problem. Some students reported the malfunction to McGill’s IT Services, who were unable to resolve the problem. Students who had reported the issue to Facebook received no assistance aside from a generic thank you message

Paul Estephan, a student on exchange from Australia, orchestrated the previous fix through a friend who worked for Facebook in June 2018. Estephan had his contact allow ‘@mail.mcgill.ca’ as a valid domain name to join the McGill community, which temporarily fixed the problem.

As students were gradually let into McGill’s official Facebook groups, activity in Forgotten Freshman heavily dropped off. Although Reid enjoys the “Free & For Sale” group, he realized he wasn’t actually missing out on that much.

“I was totally surprised at first, and happy, of course,” Reid said. “Then I realized that being in the McGill groups isn’t that great after all […it’s] one of those ‘grass is greener’ situations.”

Now that the glitch has resurfaced, this year’s freshmen have been unable to join McGill community groups such as Free & For Sale and Housing. This year’s new crop of disconnected students affects undergraduate first years and those acquiring more advanced degrees. Larissa Parker, first-year law student and honorary forgotten freshman, feels isolated from the McGill community at large.

“I feel like I can never hear about events or sports-related stuff, or get into my TA groups,” Parker said. IT Services have stated that they were aware of the problem, after receiving approximately 25 phones calls from students at the beginning of Fall 2018 and Winter 2019. Ryan Ortiz, director of IT Services, reiterated that IT has no control over the glitch and therefore cannot fix the problem.

“Facebook is not using McGill systems for authentication purposes,” Ortiz wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “It simply sends a verification email to the ‘@mail.mcgill.ca’ address entered by the user, and then waits for the user to click on the link in the email to prove that [they] are the owner of that address. If users are receiving those emails, clicking on the verification link, and still aren’t being given access, there isn’t much McGill can do about this.”

Students like Parker will have to wait for Facebook to solve the issue.

“It’s annoying to hear I’ve missed something,” Parker said. “It feels like I’m not in the know.”

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