Controversial gossip site hits campus



Katy Powers

When other people’s lives (or flaws) seem so much more interesting and appealing than your own, indulging yourself by obsessing over them seems almost inevitable. This indulgence has spawned a culture engrossed by the lives of celebrities, tracking their every move and spreading every rumor. But shrink perpetual celebrity news down to our own microcosm of a campus, and you will have something resembling, a Web site urging college students to share “juicy” gossip that launched a section for Villanova students on Sept. 11. However, students and administrators have started to note the site’s tendency to move from simple fun to malice. JuicyCampus is an open forum for anyone with Internet access to anonymously post thoughts on virtually any topic. The site requires no user registration, so the authors of comments are untraceable, except for IP addresses, which are undisclosed unless required by law, according to the site’s Privacy & Tracking Policy. However, students at Colgate and Loyola Marymount Universities were traced by their IP addresses and arrested after incidents in which they posted violent threats.

Due to this lack of personal identification, it can be somewhat hard to gauge how many users are actually on JuicyCampus. However, each topic does have a counter which goes up every time someone clicks on the subject heading. One Villanova thread has over 5,600 views, and others have over 1,000 views, indicating the popularity of the site.

JuicyCampus launched in October 2007 with the goal of facilitating anonymous free speech for those in college and has now spread to 500 campuses. Each school has its own page designed as a bulletin board with a list of various discussions. Readers can post their own topics and reply to other posts anonymously, creating a hotbed of both positive and negative opinions when provocative subjects arise.

Though the subjects of posts can be about any issue, many of the threads are centered on the reputations of fraternities and sororities, discussion about the most attractive students on campus and topics of a sexual nature. One can still find a few discussions that defy the norm, such as ones about the best English professor and an honors physics course. However, the majority of the information on the Web site is not concerned with academics.

JuicyCampus’s notoriety stems

from its shock appeal. By having the ability to post anonymously, students can say what they want with little fear of repercussions, encouraging either extreme and politically incorrect opinions or the uncensored truth, depending on your perspective. Examples of bold headlines include “Couples that need to break up” and “Potential STD Watch List?” With a click of a mouse, a reputation can either be tainted or cleared by peers.

A writer can use the full names of students and does not need verification of his or her musings in order to post. JuicyCampus argues that this is because of the difference between facts and opinions. According to the site, opinions cannot be untrue, even if they are distasteful. The site gives users a reminder before they become offended.

“You should take everything you read with a large grain of salt,” site operators say in response to allegations about a false comment.

According to JuicyCampus, the site is legal due to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which says that a Web site operator is not responsible for what a third-party user does on that site. Since the writers on JuicyCampus are all anonymous, comments of questionable accuracy remain published for all to see.

In addition, according to its Frequently Asked Questions page, JuicyCampus is not liable for anything written on its Web site since it is considered the provider of an interactive computer service, .

One frustrated poster speaking out against JuicyCampus writes, “Everyone must stop posting on this site! … People’s feelings are getting hurt and it needs to stop. Think of your family. Would you wish this on anyone? Please stop these horrible posts.”

The criticizer did not get much support from those who read the plea; instead he or she was told to grow up.

When another person posted curses directed at the other members because of their cowardice in anonymity, replies simply read “Hypocrite?” and “What’s your name, idiot?”

Perhaps going through JuicyCampus is not the way to mobilize change since the audience includes those who are using it. Even on the Terms & Conditions page, users are not permitted to “interfere with or disrupt the Site, or encourage others to do so in any manner whatsoever.”

Senior Lynda Shim says she thinks even the idea of a Web site used for the purpose of gossiping is ridiculous.

“I would hope we’re at an age where we don’t have to gossip all the time,” Shim says. “I don’t see the point. If you want to waste your time, feel free.”

Due to the growth in popularity of Vilanova’s section of the site in such a short amount of time, SGA has taken a stance against it, saying it has a negative impact on the Villanova community.

“We think it’s completely out of tune with Villanova’s mission,” says Becky Simon, secretary of SGA. “Villanova preaches community, compassion and solidarity with one another. It seems opposite of what Villanova stands for.”

SGA President Bryan Wagner and Vice President Robert Dormish have plans to get leaders of organizations on campus involved to help students recognize the harm inflicted from posting on the Web site, if necessary.

“We’re taking the opportunity to take a bad situation and make it better,” Wagner says. “We can unify the community and show that Villanova is stronger than postings and Web sites.”

As some students worry about being tracked down because of their submissions, Dormish says, “Though the legal consequences are up for debate, I would hope that people make the moral choice and say, ‘I’m not going to post because it’s the wrong thing to do.'”

Wagner gives a rule for what content he believes should be put out in cyberspace, saying, “If you wouldn’t be comfortable saying it in front of other people, you shouldn’t be saying it anonymously.”

University administrators have heard several complaints from students already. Despite how much JuicyCampus affects the students it singles out, the University’s power in this matter is limited.

“If we blocked the site from campus, it wouldn’t mean that the site didn’t exist,” says Kathy Byrnes, associate vice president for Student Life. “People would still be able to access it. I think the site is unfortunate. It’s very hurtful to people. It doesn’t seem interested in accuracy. Instead, it is interested in gossip and rumor that do not reflect the individual.”

Byrnes’ advice to stop any harm that JuicyCampus may inflict is to not participate. She says nonparticipation would also be consoling to those who have been hurt by any rumors.

“If you believe in free speech, you have to take the good with the bad,” Byrnes says. “But personally, mean-spirited, hurtful, hateful speech is not a positive thing.”

If so many seem to be against the Web site, then who is supporting it? Certainly, the people who are reading and posting messages on the site are in favor of keeping the forum alive. Those using JuicyCampus defend the site as a social reality among college students.

Though some of the writing may seem lewd and inappropriate, one person argues that this gossip is exactly what the students want.

“Gossip and cruelty are things our age group seeks out more than anything, whether or not we are aware,” one anonymous poster writes on the Villanova section of the site. “In class I see people browsing Perez Hilton constantly, and I can hear people gossiping viciously about their own friends everywhere I go. To act like it’s the only non-‘Let’s all just get along’ aspect of our campus is ignorant.”

Another view of the site is that it is not malicious in itself. Some see JuicyCampus as simply an open place to exercise the First Amendment’s right of free speech. JuicyCampus creator Matt Ivester recently defended the site in an interview with ABC News earlier this month. According to Ivester, the site was never meant to be vicious but a place where college students could share their stories.

“Our … intent is always to create a really and truly authentic college Web site, and the only way to do that is to create a place for college students where they can discuss the topics that interest them most and in the manner that they deem appropriate,” Ivester says.

Sophomore Brittany Harris shares the sentiment that it is a part of college life at the moment.

“You can’t not read it,” Harris says. “Some of it is harmless, but a lot of people do say mean things. I’ve been on it for other schools, and they’re definitely worse than Villanova.”

Here’s the freshest juice: Recently, the Villanova section of JuicyCampus has been overrun with spam and numerous off-topic posts. Could this be the work of those who have been hurt by the nameless, faceless posters before?