A Crash Course in Online Gossip

<p>Read this in the NY times last week. Very disturbing. This "gossip" site started up at Duke and has spread to many other campuses. Not sure what can be done though.... </p>

<p>A Crash Course in Online Gossip
By RICHARD MORGAN</p>

<p>THE post that appeared on a Juicy Campus message board on Feb. 25 was blunt and decidedly extracurricular.</p>

<p>It identified a Yale sophomore, by name, as having appeared in a pornographic movie, and linked to a Web site that showed him engaging in explicit acts with three other men. The post had about 900 views in its first few days (about 5,300 undergraduates attend Yale).</p>

<p>After learning about the post from a roommate, the student spent most of that evening panicked and dispirited. In the days that followed, he pored over study materials for his midterm exams and did his best to focus on his coming spring vacation. “I’m trying to zone it out,” he said in a telephone interview. “What else could I really do?”</p>

<p>Such dramas pervade Juicy Campus, an eight-month-old Web site (JuicyCampus.com) that cultivates and distributes gossip across a network of 59 college campuses. Promising that all posts will be anonymous, it allows students to participate in a collegiate version of celebrity gossip sites like TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com; it is a dorm bathroom wall writ large, one that anyone with Internet access can read from and post to.</p>

<p>For students who have been identified by name on Juicy Campus, the results can be devastating. In a tearful phone conversation, a 21-year-old junior at Baylor who majors in public relations recounted her experience when her name surfaced on the site in a discussion about the “biggest slut” on campus.</p>

<p>“I’m trying to get a job in business,” she said. “The last thing I need or want is this kind of maliciousness and lies about me out there on the Internet.”</p>

<p>Without registering, anyone can post to the site, where messages are tagged with keywords — Harvard, spring break, overheard on campus — for easier in-site searching.</p>

<p>Messages skew toward discussions of Greek societies and students’ sex lives: hottest fraternities, “sluttiest” sororities, and who gave herpes to whom. The site’s most-viewed forums usually trade in gossip at small colleges with strong fraternity and sorority systems.</p>

<p>Juicy Campus’s single most popular post seeks to identify the most promiscuous sorority sister at the University of California’s Irvine campus.</p>

<p>Ashley Rose, a junior, was more annoyed than upset to discover that she was named in the post. “It’s amusing, really,” she said. “It’s all so exaggerated and extreme that you kind of know it’s a lie. It’s a site for cowards and melodramatic people.”</p>

<p>Under Juicy Campus’s terms and conditions, users agree not to post anything “unlawful, threatening, abusive, tortious, defamatory, obscene, libelous, or invasive of another’s privacy.”</p>

<p>To reiterate that point, Matt Ivester, the site’s founder, recently declared on his site’s official blog that “hate isn’t juicy,” and attached an exculpatory note from his legal team.</p>

<p>Mr. Ivester, a 2005 graduate of Duke, declined requests for interviews and did not respond to e-mailed questions. In February he told The Daily Bruin, a student newspaper at the University of California, Los Angeles, that Juicy Campus was part of a trend toward “gossip 2.0” and that he found it “pretty entertaining.”</p>

<p>The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity has been crucial to the success of the site and of Mr. Ivester (whose Facebook profile photo shows him wearing a fraternity T-shirt and cap). When he founded Juicy Campus in August 2007, he asked his fraternity brothers across the country to provide feedback on how the site was organized and to offer material for some of its earliest posts.</p>

<p>But now many of these same fraternity brothers are part of the backlash against the site. “I don’t see any value in it,” said Aulden Burcher, a senior at Duke, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon and a friend of Mr. Ivester’s. “Look at what it does to the Greek system: rankings, sex, drugs, what happened at parties. Nobody is made better by it.”</p>

<p>Some student bodies are trying to ban Juicy Campus from their campus. Last month the student government at Pepperdine, in Malibu, Calif., passed a resolution urging the administration to prohibit access to the site.</p>

<p>“Looking back, it was a mistake,” said Austin Maness, a senior who wrote the resolution but now feels that it only increased students’ awareness of Juicy Campus. “Curiosity killed the cat,” he said, “and everyone started going to the site.”</p>

<p>Similar bans are being discussed at Columbia and Yale, and by the Greek systems at the University of California’s 10 campuses.</p>

<p>In situations where Juicy Campus posts have crossed the boundary from nuisance or harassment to outright threat, the site has cooperated with authorities. In December, Carlos Huerta, a senior at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, posted a message on Juicy Campus alleging that he would start a shooting spree on campus. At the request of the police, Mr. Ivester traced the threat to Mr. Huerta, who was arrested and released without charges.</p>

<p>Authorities can also intercede without Mr. Ivester’s cooperation, as occurred last week when a similar message appeared, written by somebody wondering if he could get his classes canceled by starting a shooting spree. The police traced the post to George So, a junior at Colgate University, who was arrested and charged with second-degree aggravated harassment and released on $1,000 bail.</p>

<p>For many students who have been written up on Juicy Campus, even those who are accustomed to posting provocative pictures on Facebook photo albums and drunken videos on YouTube, the experience has been a formative lesson that an online reputation is as much a part of one’s permanent record as a grade-point average or a credit score.</p>

<p>“Juicy Campus is really just an exclamation point following everything that’s already been going on,” said Daniel J. Solove, an associate professor of law at George Washington University who specializes in online privacy.</p>

<p>College students, he said, aren’t “thinking about the consequences because they haven’t experienced them yet and because they weren’t warned by their parents, who didn’t experience them, either.”</p>

<p>Despite their distaste for the site, some legal experts believed Juicy Campus could not be sued for gossip posted by its users.</p>

<p>“Legally, Juicy Campus is fully, absolutely immune, no matter what it runs on its site from users, just like AOL is not responsible for nasty comments in its AOL chat rooms,” said Michael Fertik, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the founder of reputationdefender.com, a service that helps clients remove defamatory material about themselves from the Internet.</p>

<p>But he added that the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which provides the site legal protections, was “functionally Mesozoic” in the blogging age. Juicy Campus, he said, “is not encouraging people to be themselves, it’s encouraging people to be the worst version of themselves.”</p>

<p>Even if such options were open to him, the Yale student whose pornographic past was exposed on Juicy Campus said he would probably not take action against the site. “Revenge means focusing on someone else, when what I need to do is take care of myself,” he said. “I’m not a gossip person, which means I’m not a counter-gossip person, either.”</p>

<p>The day after his history was revealed, he changed the photograph on his Facebook profile to one of himself giving viewers a halfhearted thumbs up.</p>

<p>I feel sorry for the guy, and I think this kind of website is pretty stupid. But really, what did he expect, participating in a porno? That nobody he knew would ever find out? Bad, bad call.</p>

<p>The state of New Jersey has taken an innovative approach to the problem:</p>

<p><a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23705921/%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23705921/&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>The Yale guy is an anomaly. First, because he's male; most of the victims are female. Second, because he actually engaged in the conduct named.</p>

<p>I don't know if any of you have been following the ********* [another website]saga. There are two related lawsuits arising out of it now. They will probably make some new law in this area. </p>

<p>The problem is that once someone posts something about you on the internet, it is really hard to get rid of it. Some of these sites are the equivalent of junior high "slam books" back in the day. Folks post some wholly untrue really mean stuff. Shoot down a guy who is interested in you, and he may post your name as the sluttiest girl on campus. He's anonymous, of course. Moreover, he can post numerous times, using different screen names, to make it look like he's a lot of different guys. Some employer does a google search on you, and it will find numerous posts saying that you are a slut. Think that might infuence a hiring decision? It would be nice to say "no," but...</p>

<p>In the ********* case, among other things, after a detailed on-line discussion of a young woman's body, requests were made for someone to take a cell phone to the school gym and get photographs of a particular part of her anatomy. Of course, that meant she stopped using the gym. (And people think the Muslim girls who wanted a single-sex gym experience were being unreasonable.) </p>

<p>Something has to be done...but what? I'm all for freedom of speech, but if a paper published something completely untrue, you can sue for libel. If someone posts something scandalous that's untrue, it can be hard to find out the identity of the person who posted it. There's no accountability.</p>

<p>I like the NJ approach. And I agree with jonri that something needs to be done.
I did a quick look and my son's school is in the group - although the posts didn't seem too bad (it's all relative though). I looked at a school where a relative attends in the south and the posts were downright awful. Lots of girls names with horrible stuff posted about them. I can't see how we can just stand by here. This is the worst of the internet...
I was curious but I don't think I could bear to visit the site again...made me sick to my stomach.</p>

<p>I got sideways with some young people on an internet forum having to do with emotional growth programs for teens. It was really scary how easily they were able to find information about me and my family. They even briefly followed me over to this forum but Roger shut them down quickly. The internet is a blessing and a curse. These kids actually trace people by IP address.</p>

<p>Regarding tracing people to their IP addresses, I thought they only know roughly the general location of where you are, what company you work for but not specifically who you are, unless the company that you work for, gives them more insider information. These IP addresses are mapped when you power your machine up, it varies from day to day. Is this correct understanding?</p>

<p>Most ISP's (Internet Service Providers) use dynamic IP addresses, so they do change daily. Cookies can get you in trouble though. I read that some vendors are sharing cookie information. So, let's say you order something from Amazon, and they have your address and other info - plus your cookie info. They can share data with another vendor to see if they are any common cookies - and the new vendor you THOUGHT you visited anonymously now has access to your personal info. Everybody needs to be REAL careful when surfing around the internet.</p>

<p>I personally know two people who were badly hurt by lies posted on the JC website. The negative repercussions have been far-reaching, but it has been heartwarming to see many other students sticking up for these two individuals. </p>

<p>If you read the JC privacy page, you'll see that the site actually directs posters to free online services that cloak IP addresses. Also, JC logs IP addresses of users without matching those addresses to specific posts, thus assuring the anonymity of those who choose to post on the site.</p>

<p>JC was created solely for the purpose of spreading gossip. As such, and IMO, it should be held to higher standards than sites such as Facebook or MySpace.</p>

<p>I really, really hope someone succeeds in taking down the site. It's evil.</p>

<p>What happens is that you might reveal some information on one site that you wouldn't reveal somewhere else. A clever search can track you down, and IP addresses can be compared. They can lead to a city or an employer, which can be enough, with further searching, to blow your identity. This can happen with unethical "administrators" even if you post as a guest somewhere and don't use a login.</p>

<p>I just read about this site, and also saw it on the nightly news. The news showed film of the JC website that showed the bottom portion of the alphabetical list of colleges covered by the site. Since I'm in CT, they were showing the list included Yale -- but of more interest to me was that Wake Forest was listed right above that. Since D is there, I immediately went online to check it out. Honestly, the site is just plain nasty! That news here is that the CT Attorney General is looking at JC, in an effort to close them down as they currently exist. I hope it works!</p>

<p>I predict that it's only a matter of time before murders and suicides can be directly traced to vicious gossip posted on this site.</p>

<p>There will be lawsuits when this occurs, and I wouldn't rule out their success.</p>

<p>^^ Really??? Poetsheart, you really see murders, suicides, and lawsuits as a result of CC? </p>

<p>I think you need a vacation.</p>

<p>^^btm: not funny. Of course poet meant the JC site. Mean-spirited gossip in high school HAS led to murders and suicides - so JC is just a more formal (and evil) turn on that. And JC IS really nasty. So sad that students (mostly girls) have to deal with awful and obscene gossip posted about them. It's a scary look at a vicious subculture that exists behind the scenes in these schools. And parents should at least be aware that it exists....</p>

<p>Wait a minute! One thing you should be aware of is that it is probable that some of the posts are not from students at the colleges involved. Nobody makes sure that you actually attend the college you are posting about. So, please don't assume that the posts about a particular college reflect anything at all about the students at that college.</p>

<p>jonri - I see your point. But I did take a quick look at the site, and at least, at the schools I visited, the posters seemed to have very specific knowledge of frat and sorority names, student names, places on campus, dorms, etc. I'm not sure how someone could know these things without being in the school or at least an alum. So, yeah, there may be some outsiders posting but I get the feeling most are students. Granted, not the best students on campus...but still students. The anonymous nature of the site just brings out the worst in them.</p>

<p>Good grief....how embarrassing for Sig Eps (my husband is one). Not exactly 'Balanced Man' behavior.</p>

<p>I just took a quick look at the posts for my d's school. Some pretty low down despicable stuff there. I won't even dignify it here. I do plan to show the site to my husband so he can lodge a complaint regarding the affiliation of his fraternity with this nonsense.</p>

<p>Ha, Ha! I just noticed my typo, btm. Thanks for pointing it out.</p>

<p>Yeah, I do seriously believe that someday, the vicious gossip will cross the line, and the fallout will be murder, suicide, or both. Only then will this horrid phenomenon gain national scrutiny, and perhaps result in a change in the way that site operates.</p>