JuicyCampus: drinking from a poisoned cup
It's not as if words of gossip never passed my lips, but I really and truly despise the whole idea of JuicyCampus, an anonymous gossip-spreading site, currently in beta, that provides a forum for students from (at present count) dozens of colleges to slam and slander their fellow students. Colleges whose students participate - unofficially, of course: this is not, needless to say, a sanctioned activity - include Duke, Cornell, Baylor, UCLA, and Loyola Marymount.
I first heard of this site when I saw a recent AP article by Justin Pope, which I saw on Comcast, that reported the heartening news that some students are fighting back against JuicyCampus. A Facebook group opposing Juicy has some 850 members who apparently want to live off this particular campus.
Juicy has a high-falutin' sounding purpose:
We were founded on August 1, 2007 with the simple mission of enabling online anonymous free speech on college campuses.
Which might strike a more authentic note if the topics were a bit more exalted than who got trashed at a frat party. But, predictably, Juicy's founder, Matt Ivester, who answered questions for the AP article via e-mail, is making this a free-speech issue. (Ah, for the days when the Free Speech Movement was about politics, not about calling some person you don't like a fat slut or a raging whore.)
Here's what Ivester had to say for himself:
"College students are clever and fun-loving, and we wanted to create a place where they could share their stories."
So I trucked over to check out what these clever and fun-loving students were saying, and most of it was of the 'who's the biggest slut at Baylor' variety, along with putdowns and gossip about kids who had the audacity to put themselves forward as campus leaders. (Poor, misguided young fools.) More from the clever and fun-loving Mr. Ivester:
"Like anything that is even remotely controversial, there are always people who demand censorship," he said in response to calls he has rejected — including one from his alma mater, Duke — for him to shut down the site. "However, we believe that JuicyCampus can have a really positive impact on college campuses, as a place for both entertainment and free expression. Frankly, we're surprised that any college administration would be against the free exchange of ideas."
Free exchange of ideas? Huh?
Maybe I was too busy reading through the salacious material - not the mention the 'oops' sections, as in "I wrote that Mary Smith was the biggest whore on campus. I'm sorry, I meant to say that Mary Jones was the biggest whore on campus. I got my Mary's mixed up." - and missed the free exchange of ideas. All I can say is I didn't find much about Obama vs Clinton, or whether global warming is a myth, or whether Something About Mary is the best movie ever made.
No, all I saw was miserable, rancid, hurtful commentary on other kids - all of it served up freer than free, under the cloak of anonymity.
As I wrote up front, it's not as if I never indulged in idle gossip.
When I was in college, a couple of the big items were a handful of students who were reputed to be call-girls working out of the Sheraton Boston, and two women on my dorm floor who supposedly had administered a knitting needle abortion or two. I remember hearing these stories, but don't recall passing them on, other than with the passage of time, when I use the stories - without the long-forgotten names of the principals - to illustrate the tawdry side of my nicey-nice Catholic education.
More recently, there was a rumor swirling around a company I worked at that one of my colleagues - a married father - was gay. A few people, knowing I was friendly with said colleague, asked me about the rumor, and my reply was that a) as far as I knew it wasn't true; and b) if it were true, it was really none of my business. I never discussed it directly with my friend. He did, at one point, refer to it, telling me that he pretty much suspected the source and had asked her to stop it.
I was shocked, then, last summer when another former colleague dredged up the rumor yet again, and told me that she had heard it from "X", who had told her that I was the source.
Not so, I protested. And there I was feeling that I was being slandered derivatively by having my name associated with a rumor that I absolutely did not spread.
In any case, this sort of old-fashioned gossip - heinous as it may be - has one major advantage to it: the gossip-ee can actually go and confront the gossip-er. Which is not possible on the gloriously entertaining and expressively free JuicyCampus, where 99.99% of the comments posted don't have names associated with them. Easy to say whatever you want about someone when there's no danger of being caught out, of having the victim confront you and demand that you retract what you've said - or at least shut up.
JuicyCampus, as Pope notes in his AP article, does its best to protect the anonymity of its posters:
...JuicyCampus seems designed to shield its users from the threat of libel claims. The site's privacy page notes that it logs the numeric Internet protocol addresses of its users, but does not associate those addresses with specific posts. That is unlike mainstream social networking sites, which do maintain such detailed logs.
JuicyCampus also goes further by directing posters to free online services that cloak IP addresses. "Just do a quick search on Google and find one you like," JuicyCampus advises.
Anonymity can serve a useful purpose - e.g., reporting a crime when you fear retribution. But all Juicy-style anonymity does is give nasty and/or insecure and/or self-righteous kids an opportunity to dish without having to pay the consequence of having the dished come after them.
Juicy's FAQ's warn about posting something that's not true:
...you can’t post lies about people or groups – that’s called defamation and it’s illegal.
But given the contortions they go through to protect anonymity, there doesn't appear to be much risk that anyone posting a lie will be caught. Then there's some palaver about facts vs. opinion vs. parody.
Hmmm. If I post that Mary Smith is a "huge whore" (the phrase used to describe one young woman on Juicy) is that a fact, an opinion, or - to those who really know her as a sweetie-pie who's never been kissed - an obvious parody.
There's just no end to the fun to be had on Juicy.
I'm delighted to hear that students at many of the schools that are early JuicyCampus adopters are rejecting the site.
"It is an expression from our student body that we don't want this junk in our community," said Andy Canales, leader of the student government at Pepperdine, which recently voted 23-5 to ask for a ban.
Moving forward, the destructive potential of the Internet is going to be ever present in the lives of kids brought up in the post it on YouTube, flash it on MySpace generation. Who better to weed out the "junk in [their] community" than the kids themselves?
Good luck to those standing up to forces of reckless, wanton cruelty unleashed by sites like JuicyCampus.
As for Matt Ivester, I hope he puts his mind and energy to a higher purpose than creating a forum where people can trash-talk to their hearts' content, without ever having to own up to what they're doing.