RONZONE: The seduction of scandal

Raquel Ronzone

Welcome to the digital realm’s newest source of “entertainment and free expression.” Here in this corner of cyberspace, political correctness is not even a consideration. In fact, blunt, often-scathing comments legitimized by a warped interpretation of free speech are the foundation of the site. Disregard the ethics of discussing an individual’s race, reputation, appearance and sexuality in a public Internet forum. Post as you please.

No, this is not another trivial blog devoted to the adulterous trysts and 5-pound weight fluctuations of the Hollywood elite but a gossip site geared toward college students. Welcome to JuicyCampus.com.

Barely a year old, the Los Angeles-based site has generated significant attention from the media – publicity that is just as unflattering as the content on its pages. Last month, The Associated Press contacted Matt Ivester, founder of JuicyCampus, who insisted that his project “can have a really positive impact … as a place for both entertainment and free expression” for its young clientele.

Ivester’s convictions have contributed to the Web site’s development. Since its inception last fall, JuicyCampus has expanded to more than 50 colleges throughout the United States, a considerable increase from the original seven schools. (Villanova University is not registered to the site.) Inclusion of campuses, however, does not equal their support.

Yale University, one of several Ivy League colleges on JuicyCampus, recently questioned the propriety and legality of Ivester’s cyberspace forum.

When interviewed by The Connecticut Post on March 22, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal accused the site of spreading “malignant and malicious falsehoods” about the students of the New England campus.

Andrew Mangino of the Yale Daily News corroborated Blumenthal’s statement, specifying the extent of the content.

“There was a Yale freshman whose name was posted on the site, and it said that she had certain sexually transmitted diseases,” Mangino said.

The attorney general accurately observed that the dialogue on JuicyCampus could affect students outside of Yale.

“This Web site is filled with insults, taunts, slander based on race, gender, religion,” Blumenthal said. He added that it facilitates hate speech – “homophobic and anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic” comments, among other discriminatory language – while indefinitely guaranteeing the privacy of those who participate in it. He announced an investigation into the site’s “failure to follow and enforce its own guarantees and promises to the public” – an act that could amount to civil charges under the consumer protection laws of Connecticut. On March 21, a lawyer for the university stated that the school supports Blumenthal and his pending investigation.

Working in cooperation with the state attorney general, Yale has established a standard that dozens of other colleges affected by JuicyCampus should follow; it has taken legal initiative to defend the personal integrity of its students. The general counsel and dean of student affairs there have even contemplated banning the site from the school’s computer network and reprimanding those who visit the address.

The Yale Daily News interviewed the JuicyCampus founder in the wake of the controversy. Ivester told the publication that he did intend to create a forum where posters could gossip without penalty.

“It’s a gossip site, and we never said that it’s not,” Ivester said. “I guess we didn’t realize how mean some people can be.”

Ivester dismisses his own accountability by feigning ignorance to the consequences of lies and rumors. By introducing the site to the public and encouraging the participation of campuses nationwide, Ivester showed his willingness to jeopardize the respectability of college students for the purpose of entertainment.

His Web site is neither a social networking site nor a validation of the right to free speech. It is a breeding ground – but unfortunately not a graveyard – for unprovoked gossip. Libel, defamation and vilification are not amusements but violations of the basic human right to accurate representation. JuicyCampus is the only proof needed to illustrate the devastating turn of the rumor mill.

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Raquel Ronzone is a freshman from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected]