Rumors Fly On Anonymous College Gossip Sites

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Campus gossip Web sites such as JuicyCampus, Boredat and CollegeACB solicit anonymous submissions of rants and rumors from college students. Jeff Bercovici, reporter for Portfolio magazine, and Andrew Mann, founder of CollegeACB, discuss the controversial message boards.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk Of The Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but after perusing the college gossip website, JuicyCampus, well, you'd probably prefer a whack in the head to some of the chatter you'll see there. The completely anonymous and widely popular Web site is a series of discussion boards devoted to gossip in various colleges and universities. Today's most viewed post, with 187 replies, asked, who is the most promiscuous sorority member on a California University campus? The second, third, and fourth most viewed are all versions of the same question, only different schools.

JuicyCampus is not the only such company, Boredat and CollegeACB all solicit the same kind of anonymous confessions, most of it salacious or vulgar, some of it racist and homophobic, and there is no way to check whether any of it is true. The sites thrive on user anonymity. Free speech, defenders say, and very entertaining. Irresponsible speech, according to critics, and sometime vicious.

Later in the hour, we'll talk about Michelle Obama as she prepares for her big Denver debut. But first, college gossip gets nasty. If you've been the subject of a post on a college gossip website or if you've ever posted yourself, tell us your story. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Jeff Bercovici writes a media blog for Portfolio magazine and wrote last month's Radar cover article on campus gossip fora. He joins us from our bureau in New York. And nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. JEFF BERCOVICI (Journalist, Portfolio): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And for those of us who haven't been to college in a while, can you describe JuicyCampus for us?

Mr. BERCOVICI: Sure. It's basically, it's a very simple, kind of, primitive site. It's really just a bulletin board, like you said, where you can go and post anything you want. You post, sort of, questions or the start of a topic and then people comment, and like you said, a lot of the posts are, you know, who's the hottest girl on campus? Who's the ugliest girl on campus? Who do you know who is a coke head? Stuff like that, really soliciting kind of the salacious and hurtful, sort of, you know, tips or bits of gossip.

CONAN: And Jeff Bercovici, names are named?

Mr. BERCOVICI: Yeah. Frequently, names are named. In fact, not only names. Phone numbers, addresses, email addresses. People put up all kinds of identifying information on there. Now the site says that they will take down your contact information if you ask. But you know, it's sort of, once the harm is done, it ...

CONAN: Once the barn door's open, yeah.

Mr. BERCOVICI: Yeah, exactly.

CONAN: And how many colleges, universities have these websites?

Mr. BERCOVICI: Let's see. It was about 70 as of the end of the last school year. Matt Ivester, who's the founder and owner of JuicyCampus, says that he's gong to unroll it at hundreds more this year, and you know, when you add the other ones, Boredat and ACB up there, I think it's getting close to the point - I think within coming school year it's going to be pretty much every major school has at least one of these.

CONAN: And I know that there - all these companies are different, but can anybody post on these sites? Does anybody check to make sure you even go to the school?

Mr. BERCOVICI: At JuicyCampus, there's absolutely nothing like that. You know, there's - when you sign on in the first place, there's a little, sort of, button that you have to click on that agrees that you're over 18, but that's about it. I believe at - is it ACB that requires registration?

CONAN: That's what I've read, yes.

Mr. BERCOVICI: Yeah. So they have at least some kind of bar bit. But JuicyCampus is absolutely - totally, like unmonitored, free-for-all.

CONAN: And as I understand it, you can not only post anonymously, but on JuicyCampus, they give you instructions about software you can download to encrypt your post so it can't be traced back to your IP address.

Mr. BERCOVICI: Exactly, yeah. They want you to be a 100 percent anonymous. They really do everything they can to insulate their users from any kind of legal accountability.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on this conversation. Our guest is Jeff Bercovici. He is a reporter who covers these issues. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Have you posted to one of these websites? Have you been the subject of a post? Let's go to Emma. Emma's calling us from San Antonio.

EMMA (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Sure.

EMMA: I wanted to make a comment. I am a student at an Ivy League university, and my best friend is on an athletic team and she was the subject of a most promiscuous list on juicycampus.com. We actually stumbled upon it from Facebook - it was advertised to us through Facebook - and went through the list and found her name at the top. And I just wanted to say, how disgusting, embarrassing and pathetic it is that the brightest minds of the country have nothing else to do but waste time procrastinating and then go to somewhere like JuicyCampus. It's a high school extension - a junior high extension - of MySpace and Facebook, and discussing exploitation of people who like to procrastinate.

CONAN: And could your friend do anything about this?

EMMA: What can you do? I mean, there are plenty of people who, of course, continue on with these posts and they say, no, X is not the most promiscuous, Y is the most promiscuous. And you - the posts are just - there's nothing you can do. She was very upset by it.

CONAN: And how many people does she figure - do you figure saw it?

EMMA: Oh. I mean, there were hundreds of posts just from my school. I can't imagine how many students must have read through this list. I mean, it was a really popular post.

CONAN: And she's, inevitably, going to be walking around campus and running into groups of people who are talking about it.

EMMA: Well, you know, I think the fact of the matter is that most of the people who post don't even know the people that they are talking about. They just want to join in the idea of this salacious, exciting gossip and then they go on Facebook and then type in her name and figure out who she is. And if she's cute, they might say, oh, yeah, she is the most promiscuous. I really don't think it's based on fact or reality at all.

CONAN: And Jeff Bercovici, is Emma mischaracterizing these posts at all?

Mr. BERCOVICI: Oh, no. She is absolutely right. And in fact, when you asked if there's anything you can do about it, one of the most infuriating things about JuicyCampus is that, typically, if somebody tries to speak up for themselves, defend themselves or maybe defend someone they know on the site, that person then becomes the focus of the attack of the, you know, certain online community.

CONAN: Emma, thanks very much for the call.

EMMA: Thanks so much. Sounds just like junior high.

CONAN: Junior high I did go to and yeah, it does. Thanks very much for that and let's see if we can go now to Chris. And Chris is with us from St. Marys in Georgia.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure, go ahead.

CHRIS: I just wanted to know that aside from the obvious anonymity part of it, why would none of this be considered slander?

CONAN: Why isn't this illegal, Jeff?

Mr. BERCOVICI: That's a great question. It would be. In traditional media, it would be. But online, because of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, there is a portion of that act known as Section 230, that, pretty much, explicitly says that a website operator isn't responsible for the things that a third-party user writes on that website. So, if I were to quote you in the New York Times saying something slanderous about someone, I, you know, as the owner of the New York Times, could be sued. But the same thing done on the Web, it's basically - the owner of the website is immune and the actual writer of the comments, since they're anonymous, they're effectively beyond the reach of the law also. And you know, judges and prosecutors could go after them if they really wanted to, get these website operators to turn over their records, but that almost never happens.

CONAN: I have read that it does happen, or it has happened in the case of people making threats on these websites that were taken seriously and, that indeed, information was turned over to the authorities.

Mr. VERCOVICI: Yeah, that's absolutely true. If someone's in - you know, perceived as being in danger, then they'll make an exception for that. But if it's just something where someone's reputation is being attacked, then there's not much of a precedent.

CHRIS: Thank you. I agree with the last caller and it does reek of junior high school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks, Chris.

CHRIS: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's go to - this is Abby. Abby, with us from St. Louis in Missouri.

ABBY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ABBY: I just had an interesting website also. It's called thedirty.com and it's kind of popular in St. Louis. But a friend of mine was posted and any talk about some kind of diseases that these people have - and they put photos - that poster is actually held liable, kind of like you mentioned, but everybody has a footprint whenever they post a comment. So, it's not really anonymous.

CONAN: Unless they download some of that encryption software, yeah.

ABBY: Right. So, they are - there are the ones who are held liable, whoever posts that incriminating comment.

CONAN: And when you say diseases, it was STDs?

ABBY: That's a popular one among in college websites like that.

CONAN: Sexually transmitted diseases. And obviously that doesn't help your reputation, does it?

ABBY: I wouldn't think so.

CONAN: Abby, thanks very much for the call.

ABBY: Thank you.

CONAN: As we mentioned, JuicyCampus is by no means the only network of gossip messages boards for college students. Andrew Mann started a Web site called, jhuconfessions.com while he was still at Johns Hopkins University and is now the co-creator of CollegeACB, that stands for anonymous college boards. In his spare time, he's getting a Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of Hawaii and joins us now from Hawaii Public Radio. And thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. ANDREW MANN (Co-creator, CollegeACB): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And you've heard a lot of people say already that - well, wildly popular, but at the same time, they find it reprehensible. Why did you start this company?

Mr. MANN: Well, to be honest, I mostly just started it as a fun little project with a friend from Connecticut, Wesley and they actually have a board there that's just within a live journal page. And we decided that there is something good to this and we could spread it to other schools. At the time, I hadn't even heard of JuicyCampus or Boredat.

CONAN: And so what's the redeeming social value here?

Mr. MANN: Well, to an extent, there's a lot more that goes on there other than gossip, and I do think gossip can provide something useful to a community. But it's more than just a gossip Web site and to an extent, I dislike the use of that word because of connotations with it. But if - there's sort of a right way and a wrong way to set up these sites, and JuicyCampus, they only want gossip, and we try to set it up a little differently so that you can get real discussions going on and take advantage of the anonymity of these sites to have conversations about the things like taboo subjects. You mentioned earlier that some of these posts are homophobic or racist. I actually think that without naming names, having discussions about homophobia and racism are some of the best posts on CollegeACB.

CONAN: In other words, people, because of the anonymity, can say things they would not say to anybody's face.

Mr. MANN: That's right. And there're a lot of examples for that. People discussing, you know - people who honestly believe that black people are genetically inferior or that homosexuality is a choice. And to a certain extent, a lot of people in American culture I think look at that and say, you should tell those people to shut up. Why are you giving them a platform for a discussion? But I think that that's a poor way to go about it because telling them to be quiet isn't really going to convince them otherwise. It's not going to eliminate these problems. I would much rather have them - have those discussions in the open and we could explain to them why they're wrong or why they're right when - in certain cases.

CONAN: There are those discussions, there are also discussions about who's hot and who's ugly and who's promiscuous.

Mr. MANN: That's right, and to a certain extent, that's why I make a separation between our site and JuicyCampus. They have basically no moderation and so - we have a little bit, maybe more or less than we should, but it makes a stark difference in the level of conversation.

CONAN: And as we mentioned earlier, there are barriers to who can post. You have to have a particular college's Web address or email address to post to ACB, not to some of these other sites that we're talking about. Anyway, we're going to continue with Jeff Bercovici and with Andrew Mann. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. With a slogan like, Always Anonymous, Always Juicy, you might expect the worst from a college gossip site named juicycampus.com and some say you'd be right. They call them nasty and vicious at best. There are also those who say it's just entertainment, no harm done. If you've been the subject of a post on a college gossip website or if you've posted there yourself, tell us your story, 800-989-8255, email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Our guests are Jeff Bercovici - Bercovici, I'll get that right sooner or later - and he writes a media blog for Portfolio magazine and wrote the cover article in last month's Radar magazine about micro-gossip sites. Also with us, Andrew Mann, one of the creators of CollegeACB, a series of college message boards. Again, 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. Email is talk@npr.org. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Jared. Jared, with us from New York.

JARED (Caller): Hey, Neal. First of all, love the show. I just wanted to let you know that.

CONAN: Thank you.

JARED: So, I just want to make a comment about the culture that you see that's grown up on the Internet around these anonymous message boards. There's a lot more of them than are just devoted to colleges. And at the top of - one of the most popular ones, there's a big disclaimer at the top of the page that says, everything posted here should be considered a work of fiction and falsehood and anyone who takes anything seriously on this board is a fool. And I think that for the most part - I understand that in colleges, you know, it's kind of an insular environment, people worry about this stuff a little bit more - but for the most part, anything posted anonymously is generally taken with a very, very large grain of salt, at least in my experience. And people don't really tend to take something that's unsubstantiated like that and that isn't attached to somebody's name, very seriously. I don't - I mean, maybe your guests can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that this is the kind of thing where somebody would be applying for a job and worrying about what was posted about them on juicycampus.com.

CONAN: Jeff Bercovici, does he have a point?

Mr. BERCOVICI: I would actually say he couldn't be more wrong about that and I would guess that Jared, you've never been the victim of, you know, misinformation or accurate damaging information on one of these sites, because the people that I talked to in reporting that piece, they felt very damaged by it and especially given the fact of how small the communities are. You know, people usually know if it's accurate of not. One of the people that I interviewed, his roommate was having a problem with drug addiction and it came out on JuicyCampus and, you know, it made it that much worse that everyone knew that it was true. People didn't take it with a grain of salt and they didn't need to.

CONAN: There's also been a story about a woman named Chelsea Gorman at Vanderbilt University who was so unfortunate as to have been raped and then, that fact was disclosed. She was trying to keep it quiet. It was disclosed on a juicycampus.com website and not only violated her again, but she realized that there'd be a very limited number of people who'd she told and felt betrayed. So - and that turned out to have been true and everybody talking about it. So....

JARED: That is interesting. I've been - in the past seven years, I've been to undergraduate and graduate school and I think JuicyCampus sprang a few years ago, and I've actually never heard a story like that. So that is interesting and a little bit disconcerting.

CONAN: Jared, thanks very much for the call.

JARED: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And let me ask you, Andrew Mann, should people take what's posted on your sites seriously?

Mr. MANN: I think it's pretty obvious what you should and shouldn't take seriously. Now, some people are going to go through sites like JuicyCampus and CollegeACB and not take those things with a grain of salt and I think that that's their fault. If you can't read these and realize that posts like who's the hottest and who's not are probably not serious or not accurate then - that's not really the fault of the poster or the person running the site. It's really the fault of you, you should be able to figure these things out. Whereas some of these posts maybe should be taken seriously.

CONAN: You don't edit - is there somebody, as you said, mediates? Somebody said - edits these things and says well, this is ridiculous, we shouldn't post these at all?

Mr. MANN: The problem with having a moderator is that he's adding his own biases to the situation. So, we wanted to have as little of moderation to separate out some of the examples you've given which I think are horrid basically. And - but you don't want someone's bias coming in, well, you know, you don't know what a moderator feels about these things and it always gets a little - into some gray areas. So, we set up a system that's designed to be automated. Users can report posts and it's kind of like a Wikipedia type thing, where a community can get to decide which posts they want up there and which they don't. And it's - so it's based on a number of factors. The main one is how many people report the post, but also age and popularity of the post and other things, and to a certain extent, it worked. Early on, lots of posts were getting deleted. After a few structural changes, requiring log-in, a few other small things, almost none of them are getting deleted and I don't think that's because people aren't using - reporting posts, I think that the posts have gotten better.

CONAN: So, you think that this, sort of, self-editing process is working. Nevertheless, even the ones that are deleted, they're only deleted after large numbers of people have read it and said, we don't think it's appropriate.

Mr. MANN: Well, yes and no. The statistics we have show that most posts that do get deleted, get deleted very quickly, like in a matter of minutes or hours. Now, you might say that's all it takes, that the damage is done, but, I would disagree. I think that a post, even if it stays up there for 24 hours, 48 hours, I have misgivings about - you know, I have doubts about how much damage it can really do to someone.

CONAN: Let's talk with Greg. And Greg's calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

GREG (Caller): Yeah, hi Neal. Great timing of the show, it's opening day here at University of Arizona.

CONAN: And is this a problem there?

GREG: Oh, yeah. I mean the JuicyCampus and everything else you're referring to, it's pretty prevalent. The site that I'm most concerned about though, given my relationship to this stuff, is ratemyprofessor.com. I've known some colleagues in the field who have met with students who have written and have been absolutely devastated and ended up in tears. It's pretty mean, some of the stuff that gets written there and, you know, it's often just based on a student who's upset with the grade, not necessarily who's you know, responding to the effectiveness of the teaching.

CONAN: So this is a site where students can anonymously post comments about the graduate students and their professors, ratemyprofessor.com.

GREG: Exactly.

CONAN: And Jeff Bercovici is that - did you write about those as well?

Mr. BERCOVICI: Oh yeah. We mentioned that in the Radar story and you know, what's really fun is that the guy who started RateMyProfessor is now starting a RateMyTeacher for high school teachers, so how long can it be until, you know, ratemykindergartenteacher.com gets started.

CONAN: Pre-K. Pre-K.

Mr. BERCOVICI: There is pre-K too, yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. That's right.

Mr. BERCOVICI: And, in fact, it goes younger than that because there is isawyournanny.com where you can report that you saw someone else, you know, someone else's nanny being mean to their kids and mothers in Park Slope and elsewhere across the country are going on there to see if they could spot their own nanny in the comments.

CONAN: Greg, as far as you know, does the school take these sites seriously?

GREG: I don't believe the school has an official policy. I've never heard anything come down the line...

CONAN: And so, as far as you know, it's not cost anybody their job, it's just a piece of mind.

GREG: Well, not yet. But what about people going on the market? You know, we know that Facebook gets looked up by potential employers so, why not RateMyProfessor? Since, after all, student evaluations are taken into account.

CONAN: Those are student evaluations though, formally presented to the school.

GREG: Yeah. Those are the school's apparatus for collecting that assessment data unlike the RateMyProfessor which, again, is an anonymous hit, often cruel.

CONAN: Greg, thanks very much for the call and good luck.

GREG: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

GREG: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to - this is Harry. Harry, with us from St. Louis, Missouri.

HARRY (Caller): Oh, hi, Neal. I used to work for a large corporation and we had an internal anonymous message board. Now, it was done on Lotus Notes and you had to log-in. but you were not like - in this one section, the post - like the author of the post was not recorded. And...

CONAN: But presumably, the log-in, you needed, and I'm just picking a name out of a hat, ibm.com email address.

HARRY: That's correct. That's correct and it was all internal, it was not available to anyone outside the company. But, people would use it to really vent and complain about management decisions, about you know, acquisitions or divestitures or restructurings, and people were really, you know, quite frank and they said things that would certainly have had repercussions had it not been anonymous. And this all happened in, you know, with the tacit approval of management and I think that they must have felt that it served some, you know, beneficial purpose. Now, it also wasn't, you know, very often - I mean, it wasn't you know, immature and salacious and so forth. It was - you know, but it wasn't always reasonable points of view either, I wouldn't say.

CONAN: Andrew Mann, is something along those lines, something like a model that you had with the ABCs?

Mr. MANN: Yeah, more or less. I think that there's something valuable about that, that - I would love to live in a world where we didn't have to have anonymous confession boards or things of that nature, where people could talk to each other more openly about these things. But as long as we don't then, I do think that, for example at that company, it serves a very useful purpose for even gathering information. And to a certain extent, there are going to be comments on there that are, you know, harmful and not very useful but there's always going to be a certain percentage of them that are useful. So on the whole, it might be a very useful thing to have at a company.

CONAN: And Jeff Bercovici, it sounds like a digital version of the suggestion box with the one difference that I guess everybody in the company can see it.

Mr. BERCOVICI: Oh, absolutely. I mean, anonymity does a lot of good. As a journalist, I'll be the first person to say that anonymity can accomplish things in the world that can't be accomplished when people have to put their names to everything. It just also does a lot of harm and you have to ask why a site that is seen as doing so much more harm than good, you know, why a founder would stand behind it?

CONAN: Harry, thanks very much for the call.

HARRY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see, we go now to Stuart. Stuart, with us from Nashville in Tennessee.

STUART (Caller): Hi there. I'm a student at Vanderbilt University, which you, Neal, mentioned earlier in the broadcast.

CONAN: I did.

STUART: And I just wanted to mention that a group of student leaders at Vanderbilt actually posted, or wrote a column in the school's newspaper to take a stand against JuicyCampus, not because we don't believe in free speech or we don't value open discussion. But just because we don't believe in that way of comporting ourselves as members of a community, and that if we want to discuss things seriously with some sense of healing things then it ought to be face-to-face and not in a free-wheeling environment like that of JuicyCampus.

CONAN: And was that in the context of that rape case that I mentioned earlier?

STUART: It was a series of things. Of course that's been the most visible thing, but I think there had been some concern on the part of both students and the administration at Vanderbilt, before that most serious concern came out.

CONAN: Jeff Bercovici, Vanderbilt is hardly the only campus to see protests of this sort.

Mr. BERCOVICI: Oh, absolutely. It's been taken up by student councils all over the country. In general, administrations have been reluctant to ban it from campus because they tend to be pretty pro free speech and a lot of - on a lot of campuses, what the people have realized is that protesting, it just tends to draw more attention to the sites. So in general, the student activists now are just trying to encourage people to ignore them.

CONAN: Andrew Mann, do you ever listen to these protests about - I'm not sure there have been any specifically about any of your sites but in general.

Mr. MANN: Yeah, I do actually. In fact, that's something that we take very seriously. We launched aboard it at a school in Ohio and there was significant concern about it, partially because we hadn't put a lot of the techniques and tools of moderation we have on the site now. And it turned very much into a JuicyCampus type site. We ended up listening to the administration and to the students there and we ended up shutting it down. So, I do take that seriously.

CONAN: Would you relaunch at this point, now that those other tools are in place?

Mr. MANN: Probably not. Just because there's now a stigma attached to it at that school and also I'm pretty sure I gave the administrator who we were dealing with my word that we wouldn't be coming back.

CONAN: Thanks, Stuart. I appreciate the phone call.

STUART: Thank you very much.

CONAN: We're talking about online gossip sites at colleges with Jeff Bercovici, who's a reporter, who writes a media blog for Portfolio Magazine and wrote the cover story in last month's Radar Magazine about micro gossip sites, and with Andrew Mann, one of the creators of CollegeACB, a series of college message board. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And Andrew Mann, let me ask you, is this a profitable business?

Mr. MANN: At the moment, no. In fact, yesterday I think we made a dollar and 27 cents total. And we didn't really start it to make money, that was not the goal. As I mentioned before, it was mostly just a fun project. It would be nice, one day, if we could turn this into a real business, but that's by no means our primary goal at the moment.

CONAN: Jeff Bercovici, is this a profitable business for the bigger sites, juicycampus.com?

Mr. BERCOVICI: I think that JuicyCampus is heading towards profitability, if it's not there already. And in that case, Matt Ivester definitely has said that he did start it to make money. He wanted to start an Internet company, that was always his plan, and this is where he saw a market.

CONAN: Let's talk with Sunny. Sunny, with us from Conway in Arkansas.

SUNNY (Caller): Yeah. I actually - I wanted to talk very quickly. I go to a very small school, so we don't really have these, like, bigger sites. But we do have Facebook and one program on Facebook that really kind of bothers me is this thing called the honesty box. And the honesty box is where you can post comments, it's an application so you have to sign up for it to use it. But what you do is you compose anonymous comments about the person who was chosen to have this application. What bothers me the most about it is that I'm a camp councilor in the summer and I have started to see my 12 and 13-year-old girls sign up for this program and I remember thinking, when I was that age, man I'd really like to know what other people thought of me and my mother. So I was like, no, no you don't, not really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Twelve and 13, yeah. Middle school.

SUNNY: I don't think this a good idea at all.

CONAN: Thank you, Sunny. Appreciate the phone call.

SONNY: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go now to Andrew. Andrew, with us from Senora in California.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: All right.

ANDREW: I just - thanks for taking the call. I just have a question - a quick question for Andrew Mann, the founder of that site. Why he thinks that he shouldn't have more responsibility for things that are put on the site, like if somebody is putting a threatening thing or revealing information about a rape or something - why that should be left to just any random person to have to report that. I think that should be something - that's not the decision that should be left up to the majority of people looking at the site, I think that should be the responsibility of the person who opened the forum, the person who created the site. And I can take my answer off the air. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Andrew Mann?

Mr. MANN: Well, I think that to a certain extent, in a lot of forums, that that makes sense. The problem is that if you want the discussion to be as open as possible, and that is the main goal of these, that by having - picking a moderator, he's adding his own opinions on the subject. So what happens if you get a moderator who happens to have strong views about something, say racism or homophobia or any of it, or rape or a thousand other things, and as a result, deletes post that are perfectly legitimate and refuses to delete ones that you find offensive. And so the problem becomes, everyone finds something different offensive. So, you leave it up to the community and you say - and you know, the responsibility of the people who - just some random person - it's more than that because enough people are using these sites that there really is a community built around them and so, I think that by making this a decision of the people who are also providing the content, you're augmenting it.

CONAN: So it's basically - you see it fundamentally as a free speech issue.

Mr. MANN: I do.

CONAN: Thank you very much, Andrew Mann. Appreciate your time today.

Mr. MANN: Thank you.

CONAN: Andrew Mann is the - one of the creators of CollegeACB, a series of college message boards, and now getting his Ph.D in astrophysics at the University of Hawaii, and joined us today from Hawaii public radio. We thank them for the use of their studios. Our thanks also to Jeff Bercovici, I think I pronounced it correctly the last few times.

Mr. BERCOVICI: Yes you did.

CONAN: And he's a reporter who writes a media blog for Portfolio magazine and wrote the cover story in last month's Radar about micro gossip sites, and with us from our bureau in New York. Appreciate your time today, too.

Mr. BERCOVICI: My pleasure.

CONAN: Up next as we await her big Denver debut tonight. Who is Michelle Obama? Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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