“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
The famous rhyme may hold true in some cases, but what if those words were published for thousands of people, including fellow classmates, to read?
The Web site JuicyCampus.com allows students to post anonymous gossip. College students can find their university on the site and anonymously post their thoughts on anyone or anything about the school. No login is necessary and there is no way to verify if the poster actually attends the school he or she posts for.
Cal Poly was recently added to JuicyCampus’ list of schools along with 436 other colleges and universities. The first post on Cal Poly’s page came on Sept. 29, but the Web site has been available to some campuses since its beta launch in October 2007.
JuicyCampus has received over 15,000 school requests over the last year, said Matt Ivester, founder, president and CEO of Lime Blue Inc., the parent of company of JuicyCampus.
“(The process of selecting schools) was a mixture of us looking at which campuses had been requested and just trying to figure out where we would do well,” he said.
A 2005 graduate of Duke University, Ivester got the idea for the site from his own college experience. “I realized that everyday on every campus in every group of friends, they have these really great stories, so why not create a place online to share those stories?” he said. “That is how JuicyCampus was born.”
Topics posted on Cal Poly’s page range from the best place to eat on campus to posts asking for people to rank students and their body parts.
“JuicyCampus is a Web site where college kids can talk about the things that interest them most and in the manner that they deem appropriate,” Ivester said.
Because of the anonymity factor, students can write almost anything on their minds without consequences. However, site guidelines encourage students to refrain from writing lies or posting copyrighted material. JuicyCampus does not preview the posts but retains the right to remove postings.
The Web site has never identified posters except when violent threats were made against a campus community.
“It was an imminent danger to the students; we of course were very concerned and wanted to completely comply with the police,” Ivester said. “So we provided an IP address and the police then were able to go to the Internet service provider.”
Some wonder about the legal and ethical implication of posting gossip on the site.
Political science assistant professor Ronald Den Otter says people usually claim freedom of speech such instances.
“Most of the time (the freedom of speech claim) is true; there is a strong presumption against censorship in our First Amendment doctrine, but at the same time there is really a separate question. Even if you have a legal right to say what you want to say, should you be doing it?” he said.
While some think JuicyCampus is amusing, not everyone is laughing. Marketing senior Adam Rouman and political science sophomore Josh Fabian were both singled out on the site.
In Rouman’s case , a post asked people to write their thoughts about him. Rouman’s friends informed him about the post, so he visited the site for the first time to read it.
“(The comments were) very hurtful at first so I started checking it more regularly and then someone else posted something more positive,” Rouman said.
After he read the replies he decided to write one back himself.
“At first I was thanking people for the mean comments. it was an acceptance speech, but then I thought ‘who really looks at this?’ It is so shallow; so one dimensional,” Rouman said.
The post about Fabian went a step further. It didn’t just state an opinion, but falsely accused him of having a sexually transmitted infection, he said.
“I take great pride in my sexual health,” he said. “First off my sexual activity is something I consider very personal and for some girl that maybe I had a fling with to just say ‘oh I am going to get revenge on him’. is just childish.”
“It is gossipy and we have never denied it is a gossip Web site,” Ivester said. “To the extent that it can hurt someone’s reputation, I think I would disagree. We have really gone out of our way; search engines can not crawl JuicyCampus so if someone’s name were typed into Google and their name was also on JuicyCampus.com there would be no results in the Google search from JuicyCampus.”
In Fabian’s case, the comment could be found libelous. Students experiencing cases like these could sue for defamation but Den Otter thinks it would be hard to prove.
“Defamation is a false factual claim; it has to be communicated to a third party which obviously it is if it is on JuicyCampus. (However,) another element they would have to show is the defamed had been injured in a tangible way. It’s not simply (that) you had hurt feelings,” he said.
Fabian and Rouman, both members of a fraternity, agree the site is hurting the image of the greek system. Greeks are, in fact, one of the most targeted groups on the site.
“There is more to talk about (with) greek life; they do a lot of good things and lots of philanthropy too. You can’t knock it until you try it,” Rouman said.
Ivester, who was the president of his fraternity and president of the Greek Honor Society, disagrees with the claims that JuicyCampus hurts the greek image.
“I think some of it is in the good-hearted, competitive nature that has always been on greek campuses throughout the history of greek life. But to the extent that they are mean or insulting – that is not really what JuicyCampus is meant to be used for,” he said.