College Gossip Site Faces Legal Turmoil and Student Boycotts

While campus gossip may seem like something of an Andover pastime, Phillips has nothing on the 61 college and university campuses gossiped about on the website JuicyCampus, a website created in August 2007 for college students to post anonymous, uncensored gossip about classmates, has, despite its brief history, faced extensive controversy. In March, the site underwent investigation from New Jersey prosecutors, with its records subpoenaed and its relationship with an advertising network investigated then terminated pursuant to possible violations of the Consumer Fraud Act, which generally deals with non-disclosures or faulty information in terms of a commercial transaction. The site’s operators stated on their blog in response to the subpoena, “JuicyCampus has not violated any laws. JuicyCampus is immune under federal law for liability arising from statements made by others.” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also launched an investigation into JuicyCampus later that month. The California state legislature is also pressuring on the state’s attorney general to investigate the site. College students have also faced criminal action for their supposedly anonymous posts on JuicyCampus. In December, a student at Loyola Marymount University allegedly threatened to begin a shooting spree through a post on JuicyCampus, and in March, a junior at Colgate University posted a message that, according to the New York Times, asked whether starting a shooting spree could potentially cancel his classes. Emily Kennedy ’07, now a student at Colgate, said, “I personally thought the wording of the ‘threat’ made it pretty obvious that it was just a joke. It definitely was not funny, but I guess some people have weird senses of humor. Regardless, I am very happy that my school took the security measures that they did, particularly in lieu of recent school shootings.” A large number of police officials arrived on campus on the day named in the post. The school also hired private investigators to track the message. The student to whom the message was traced, junior George So, has since been arrested and charged with second-degree aggravated harassment, and is now free on bail. Such uses, though, were not the site’s intended purpose, according to JuicyCampus’s founder, Matt Ivester, a Duke graduate. Wrote Ivester on the JuicyCampus blog, “Our hope for the site has always been that JuicyCampus would be a place for fun, lighthearted gossip, rather than a place to tear down people or groups … Ultimately, JuicyCampus is created by our users, and we ask that you please take this responsibility seriously.” JuicyCampus, which did not first face any investigation until March, had inauspicious beginnings. Cecily Pulver ’07, a former Blue Key Head and now a sorority member at Cornell University, said, “It seems as if JuicyCampus popped out randomly and suddenly became a big deal.” “There was a period when most people were going on [JuicyCampus] once a day to procrastinate. Everyone was either on Facebook or JuicyCampus. Since then, it has definitely died down a bit,” Pulver said. Some of the site’s controversy has also come from its supposed constituencies, college students themselves. In January, Pepperdine University’s student government enacted a resolution to block the site from being accessed on the school’s network, though the school administration refused to enact the ban. Student leaders at Princeton University also organized a campus-wide boycott. Song Kim ’07, a student at Duke, said, “There has been a very heated debate [about JuicyCampus] at Duke, especially since the founder graduated only two years ago.” “I find JuicyCampus repulsive and terrible. It is a testament to how immature college students can be. It’s actually really sad. Go get a life rather than talking about what someone did in their drunken Saturday night [state],” said Kim, a former News Editor at The Phillipian. Danny Silk ’07, the former Student Council President and now a student at Yale, said, “I didn’t know the website existed until an article was printed about it in the Yale Daily News. A lot of people who didn’t know about it beforehand were curious to know what the fuss was all about.” Although JuicyCampus welcomes all types of student gossip, the website is mainly geared toward fraternity and sorority life. Kim said, “The only people mentioned in JuicyCampus are prominent people in the Greek system, though this may depend on the school. I am not involved in the Greek system, but the social life at Duke is centered around the Greek system.” Pulver said, “The week before spring term, a bunch of people rushed to join sororities and fraternities, so they were interested to know which one was the best [according to JuicyCampus].” Erik Anson ’07, a student at Princeton, said, “[In general,] People who like to stay well-connected to the grapevine are going to jump on a new tool. People more in favor of letting others have their privacy and minding your business won’t bother.” College students, however, have mixed reviews regarding the accuracy of the website. Said Kim, “For those that are interested, JuicyCampus is a really good source for gossip. What I mean is, three weeks ago someone pulled a prank with a fire alarm in our dorm. Within hours, predictions of who pulled the prank were online. It’s a convenient and reliable source of information. Anything that happens is guaranteed to be online within minutes.” Pulver disagreed. “JuicyCampus is not very accurate. Some people actually ask for advice, though it is mostly just gossip. It may not be a reliable source, but it has fantastic entertainment value,” she said. Regardless of the website’s reliability or the entertainment value it can provide, the website has proved to sometimes be emotionally harmful. Kim said, “People are tempted to indulge whatever is on their minds–things that you normally won’t tell others–especially about people you hold a grudge against, but this is really not a healthy way to resolve tensions.” Katie Morris ’07, another student at Duke, said, “One of my roommates was actually targeted on the site several times, and it was really hurtful to her. She would try not to look at it, but knowing that people are writing about you, whether it be true, false, good or awful, and not looking to see what’s being said is as hard as not eavesdropping when you overhear someone say your name.” Students agreed that a similar website at Andover might create a commotion on a larger scale and even result in disciplinary action. Anson said, “[At Andover,] everyone knows pretty much everyone else, so the gossip would hit everyone instead of a small group.” Said Pulver, “If JuicyCampus ever branched out to high schools, it might just become another source of procrastination, but it could also become dangerous because the gossip would get out a lot more [due to smaller student body sizes].” Among most college students, JuicyCampus is the epitome of a guilty pleasure. “As fun as it is, the way JuicyCampus bashes people is terrible. Perhaps it could be used as a constructive source, but right now it is mostly negative,” Pulver said. She continued, “Most people who get sucked into it are a little nosy, like me.” Kennedy said, “There’s pretty much nothing positive about JuicyCampus. Trash talk happens no matter what, but this site takes it to a new level. That being said, I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been on the site with friends and been thoroughly entertained by the gossip.” “JuicyCampus has done nothing but bring the issue of freedom of speech into daily conversation. I don’t believe this benefit outweighs the consequences, since it damaged many reputations in the process,” Silk said. Anson believes that the freedom of speech argument has prevented the elimination of the problems brought about by the site. “JuicyCampus is definitely a bad thing and people shouldn’t visit the site, but on the grounds of freedom of speech, I don’t think you can silence it,” said Anson. Kim said, “People will always find an alternative to release their frustrations and do immature mean things. JuicyCampus gained popularity because kids jumped into the gossip scene. It is up to those who engage in such terrible behavior to put a stop to it.”