“Thank you for screwing up my freshman year.”
-Addressed to JuicyCampus.com, from a CNN profile of a college student who was a target of posts on the site.

So tempting is a juicy piece of gossip. Despite assurances to the original informer to keep it on the down-low, the juiciest tidbits will always manage to slip out. But there is a tinge of a guilty conscience when one violates the trust of a friend. What happens when even this bit of accountability is entirely removed and anonymity is rule? You’ve got JuicyCampus.com

JuicyCampus is a repository of gossip and rumors; organized by school, it presents information in a way that is maximally useful to gossip-seekers. Hot topics invariably include keywords like “gay,” “sex,” and “sorority.” It prides itself on complete anonymity and even directs users to proxies to mask their IP addresses. When I last JuicyCampus here, the site had just taken off, attracting media and legal controversy. I haven’t been able to find any recent news on the legal developments, so I can only assume they haven’t made much headway.

(A quick legal aside: JuicyCampus is protected by free speech and can claim immunity under Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, which states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This means that JuicyCampus is not legally responsible for potentially libelous content on its site. What the New Jersey AG was attempted to do was sue JuicyCampus for consumer fraud in misrepresenting how it deals with content removal.)

We generally like to think that privacy is in our hands. We control the information about ourselves – Facebook has robust privacy controls, we choose what we put about ourselves online, etc. We do not, however, have any control over what others say about us. In this way, the existence a public forum like JuicyCampus allows others to invade our privacy. There are really two separate issues here, the posting of true information (invasion of privacy) and the posting of false content (libel). Let’s see how JuicyCampus deals with the former in its FAQs (my emphasis added):

How do I remove a post that someone else made?
You can’t. Only we can remove posts made by others, and generally we don’t. We do remove spam, but otherwise it’s pretty rare.

What if my contact information is posted?
If someone posts your email address, your home address, your home phone number, or other contact information (no, your full name doesn’t count), we’ll consider deleting it if you notify us. Shoot an email to us at  cs at juicycampus.com with “Contact Info” in the subject, give us as much info as you can about the post so we can find it, and we’ll see what we can do. FYI, we may or may not read your complaint, and we may or may not respond to it. The decision of what action to take, if any, is at the sole discretion of JuicyCampus.

JuicyCampus’s FAQs and privacy policy are remarkably cavalier. I personally find it a little upsetting to see a site flaunt its CDA immunity with such blatant disregard for privacy. So how to deal with something like JuicyCampus? The Colonialist at George Washington University has come up with one strategy to combat JuicyCampus: spam. With spam the downfall of many message boards in the past, there is some poetic justice in fighting the malefactors of the Internet with their own weapons. But the strategy requires a corps of volunteers dedicating their time to….posting spam, not a particularly sustainable enterprise.

Or we can just ignore it. Every controversy surrounding it elevates its profile; every attempt to ban brings more curious visitors. I’m probably doing a disservice by mentioning JuicyCampus here. But there is a distinction I’d like to make. Posting on JuicyCampus is actually quite different from exchanging gossip with friends and acquaintances. Gossip is a kind of social currency – it’s showing off your exclusive knowledge and bringing a select circle into your confidence. These anonymous postings on the Internet, however, have no benefit to the poster, except perhaps the satisfaction of personal retribution. It’s the digital equivalent of nasty messages scrawled in the bathroom, only worse because the potential audience is the entire world. But as any smart student would realize, JuicyCampus really just an outlet for the spiteful and the bored. I’d like to think, anyways, that the site has only limited utility and thus limited appeal. That’s not to say terrible consequences can’t come out of its limited user base, but it’s never going to be the center of our online social live. Or am I being too optimistic?
-Sarah Zhang

Be Sociable, Share!