Duke University graduate Matt Ivester launched JuicyCampus, which allows students to post rumors and other campus gossip, in the fall of 2007 at his alma mater and six other institutions. But the site really made a splash over the last year as it spread to dozens of other schools–much to the dismay of campus administrators and even some students, who have taken offense to the anonymous and often crude or slanderous postings it has spawned.
Free to use and supported by advertising, JuicyCampus is a simple conduit urging users to post gossip and promising them total anonymity. There are threads on campus hook-ups, who’s popular, and who’s overweight.
"Top ten freshman sluts," reads one typical thread, and "The Jews ruin this school" another. Homophobia is common. Many postings combine the cruelty of a middle school playground, the tight social dynamics of a college campus, and the alarming global reach of the internet.
"College students are clever and fun-loving, and we wanted to create a place where they could share their stories," said Ivester.
But campus officials were not amused–and neither were the state attorneys general in Connecticut and New Jersey, whose offices began investigating JuicyCampus for possible consumer fraud because the web site suggests it doesn’t allow offensive material but offers no enforcement of that rule … and no way for users to report or dispute the material.
Meanwhile, a new chapter in the controversy opened in November when Tennessee State University (TSU) reportedly became the first public institution to ban JuicyCampus from its computer network.
"Tennessee State University’s network is a private forum for the express purposes of academic work and research. Because it is a private forum, the issue of free speech does not attach," said Michael A. Freeman, vice president for student affairs at TSU.
But legal experts aren’t so sure–setting up a possible test of free-speech laws if a TSU student were to sue to have the site unblocked.