Juicy Campus Thrives on College Gossip

The creator of JuicyCampus.com says he wants to enable free speech on college campuses. But with anonymous posts about sluttiest girls, closeted students and who's fattest, reporter Jeff Young says the site may go too far.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

OK. So imagine going online and reading something like this about yourself, "I think it's fair to call her ugly, she is not a particularly good looking girl, and she lacks the personality to make up for it. She has definitely lost some weight since a couple of years ago, but it doesn't make up for the fact that she is loud, self-centered, and generally obnoxious. OK, that post on a new college website called Juicy Campus, it really existed, it really happened, it's about a freshmen at Princeton. The thread title actually names that student, and it was purportedly written by one of her classmates.

The creator of this Web site, Juicy Campus, says the site's purpose is to enable online anonymous free speech on college campuses, but with subjects like sluttiest girls, who's in the closet, and fattest students dominating the forums some people say the site has gone a bit too far. Student governments around the country are calling on their schools to block the site and with two recent threats of violence posted on the site, questions are being raised about its future. Jeff Young has been reporting on the Web site, Juicy Campus, for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and he joins me now to talk about it. Hey, Jeff.

Mr. JEFF YOUNG (Journalist): Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Thanks for being here. So for people who have never heard of this site, can you describe how it works?

Mr. YOUNG: Sure. It's basically a series of bulletin boards, and it's divided up into campuses and so like you said Princeton is one of them, but there are over a 125 I think now campuses. So you could either drill down into one of those campuses or you can just look at all the campuses combined, but students are sort of going to their campus' board and either posting those kinds of examples that you read or even some of them are actually quite even worse as far as the...

MARTIN: Yeah. That we should say that was one that we could actually read.

Mr. YOUNG: Right. That one is a little tame. The slogan of the site I believe is sort of always anonymous, always juicy, and so the board really, this one really encourages people to sort of go and be very far out there in their sort of talk which you know, which some people sort of find offensive.

MARTIN: Now, how prevalent is this? Are a lot of people using it, have you been able to gauge how popular it is?

Mr. YOUNG: It is difficult to know, the one thing though, I mean some people are posting and reading because just like when you go on other sites you can see how many people have read or voted for a posting, and you can see that there are some that have gotten thousands of readers or votes for whether it's a good post or bad post. So, there seems to be, you know some traffic here but then again it's not something that's going to be the next YouTube at this traffic rate right now, I mean it's not millions of people or anything it's just - on each campus it does seem to cause a stir because it seems like when it opens up on a certain campus because it's sort of an expanding campus by campus, that there is a sort of a group of people that sort of starts posting about their friends and people they know in campus and other people flock to it to see kind of what's being said about me.

MARTIN: OK so how, clearly some of the - a lot of the stuff on this site is really malicious. How are campuses reacting to this site? They are trying to get it blocked, but can't students just access it, I mean I can go on right now, I mean you can just get it.

Mr. YOUNG: It is, it's one of those things where a lot of people see it and they see the examples that we are talking about where it just says someone's name and it says someone's name in it, says this horrible allegations a lot of times they probably are not true, and you just see it and people have this visceral reaction, they just say I want to get rid of this, just make this go away.

And it is one of those things where it is difficult to know what to do, and so there has been a reaction by students as you mention student governments have been voting for resolutions saying that we, you know, we decry this Web site, but we also think the campus should ban it on the campus network. And the campus administrators that I have talked to on those campuses, and Pepperdine University was one of them where the undergraduates voted against it. Well, the administrators there sort of say well, that may not even be that effective. They voted not to ban it so they haven't actually blocked it on any of these campuses even though the students want them, you know, say they want it blocked. The administration says well, it's not that simple it's the Internet and also a lot students live off-campus in apartments where blocking it on the campus network would have no effect.

MARTIN: No difference. Yeah.

Mr. YOUNG: And also there are ways on the Internet to go around if somebody were to block a site a savvy student could go through some other channel to sort of find it anyway, and so the administrators that I have talked to also said that they are concerned because what if, there are a lot of unseemly material on the Internet, what if they blocked this does that mean they need to block other things they disagree with, and so that's kind of a slippery slope, they say.

MARTIN: The whole free speech thing...

Mr. YOUNG: And the free speech thing of course.

MARTIN: Which is exactly the site's creator Matt Ivester said that's what this is all about. This is just an open forum, but the name of the Web site is Juicy Campus, I mean it's clearly a gossip Web site. Is there something about it that's inviting this kind of low-level discourse?

Mr. YOUNG: You know, that's a really good point, I mean as you say on the Web site it has an official blog, and Matt Ivester, who we've been trying to interview, but he doesn't always grant those. But he on the site has been sort of saying, of course, we don't want the kind of malicious behavior that the most extreme behavior that's going on on the site and at the same time, on the Web site's postings, I mean the Web site's other parts of the site it makes clear that they, you know the things are anonymous and that this is supposed to be a site for gossip. And so there seems to be sort of double-speak there about on one hand saying this is the site that is really all about malicious gossip, and on the other hand saying oh please don't do anything that's wrong...

MARTIN: Uh-huh.

Mr. YOUNG: That's illegal or wrong.

MARTIN: And we should say we reached out to Matt and didn't hear from him, but we should read that statement on the blog. It says, quote "Keep Juicy Campus the fun place it was meant to be, please consider whether your post is entertaining or just mean and whether using a person's full name really adds value or if it would be just as juicy as a blind item, remember that words can hurt and the people you are talking about are real. Ultimately, Juicy Campus iscreated by our users and we ask that you please take this responsibility seriously." End quote. So he has definitely put it out there but the gossipy nature of the site, I mean, it's elevated to a different level, right? There was a young man who was actually arrested at Colgate, correct?

Mr. YOUNG: That's right. That was this week, there was a student who posted, and I might have that one here. I mean, the wording of the post was - it seemed to be kind of making it a commentary or a joke about the site and he said "I wonder if I could shut down the school" this is what the student wrote on the Juicy Campus site, "I wonder if I could shut down the school by saying I'm going to shoot as many people as I can in my second class tomorrow" and it goes on, but I mean...

MARTIN: Clearly provocative.

Mr. YOUNG: Exactly, and that site was seen by a student who was actually researching the site for her student newspaper and she saw that on Monday of this week and said, at first, she did not take it as legitimate, like a serious actual threat, but she thought it was definitely not funny and it concerned her a little bit and she ended up calling the campus authorities because she thought that they should know about this kind of thing going on the Web. The local police ended up tracking the person's internet address down and arresting the student, who is a junior, and he was arrested.

MARTIN: Hey Jeff, stay with us if you can, would you mine? I've got two more questions for you.

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah, sure.

If you could stay with us over the break, Jeff Young has been reporting on the site, Juicy Campus, for the Chronicle of Higher Education. We are going to continue our conversation with him in just a minute. This is the BPP and we are from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Hey, welcome back to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. Hey, you know, it's March 14th, that's Pi Day, what does that mean to you? Well, if you like pi, not the apple kind, but the numeric kind, you want to stay tuned because we're going to talk to some people and they are going to explain to us what pi is and what Pi Day is all about it. We're even going to talk to some people who are celebrating Pi Day. Also, has the democratic nomination for president permeated your subconscious to the point where you're really dreaming about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? If so, my regrets to you, but there are really some people who are out there doing this and we're going to take a stroll through those dreams.

But first, we're going to finish our conversation with Jeff Young. He's a journalist who has been reporting on the Web site Juicy Campus and he reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Jeff, I want to ask you about libel software, I think I read in your reporting, correct me if I'm wrong, that the site actually gives users some instruction about some software that they can download that will encrypt their post so it can't be traced back to their IP address?

Mr. YOUNG: Right, this gets back to the, you know anonymous nature of the site and in a way, I think, a lot of the site's message is that, you can be as anonymous as you want. Therefore you can say anything no matter how, you know, out there and on the site, there have been messages that say things like, you can go on Google and find these ways to mask your internet protocol address or IP address. Basically, telling students or whoever reads the site, there are tools that you can use, to sort of try to disguise who you are so that no one can trace you. Again, I think it's back to that ethos the site is trying to create and really pushing the envelope and encouraging people to sort of say things that are extreme.

MARTIN: So what's going to happen, do you think? Is this going to stay up or is there enough of scandal emerging that there could be some legal action in the future?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, that's interesting and a lot of the campus administrators I talked to just say that, back to that, spirit of free speech that if you just let this be and if you sort of starve it of attention that it'll die because people won't go there anymore and it'll just kind of fade away. It's hard to know, I mean, the one thing that is interesting - one of the colleges went and emailed the internet service provider, the hosting company of the site, saying, you know, this site might be violating your policies over what you think is right and do you really want to be associated with this site and the Google ads which, you know, a lot of sites use to support their advertising. Juicy Campus was using Google ads, but then after a letter was sent by one of the universities, Google reviewed the case and actually kicked them off saying that they were violating their policies.

MARTIN: OK, we're going to leave it there. Obviously, a story that we'll continue to follow. Jeff Young, reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Mr. YOUNG: Great thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: Take care.

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