Gossip You Can’t Manage

In light of recent discussions about managing online reputations, how about something you can’t really control – gossip. JuicyCampus.com is a website aimed at becoming a compendium of gossip at college campuses. The gossip posted is, unsurprisingly, is often malicious and hateful, leading to some backlash in the media.

It’s true that the postings on JuicyCampus aren’t much different from gossip whispered in dorm rooms or graffitied onto bathroom walls. The crucial difference though, is their form. The Internet allows for both better anonymity and permanence, which makes it all the more hurtful for victims of gossip. JuicyCampus.com has at least disabled search engine indexing of its posts, but the site is otherwise more sympathetic to its anonymous posters than potential victims. It promises total anonymity and does not associate log IP addresses with posts, so there is no way to trace the author of a post. There is also no clear channel to request the removal of a post.

JuicyCampus hasn’t quite caught on at my campus, but I had heard about it before through ads on Facebook. In fact, I think this link with Facebook makes it all the more dangerous. Like the social networking site, JuicyCampus is organized in networks by college, making the information most “relevant” to you. While unknown names could just be glossed over once upon a time, it is now takes only a few clicks to match up a name with a face.

JuicyCampus currently targets college students, but I can see such forums becoming available to middle- and high school-aged students as well. Call me pessimistic, but I really don’t see anything good coming out of such a site. Yet JuicyCampus is well protected under free speech, as the Communications Decency Act absolves websites of responsibility for content posted by users. Since the media backlash, JuicyCampus’s founder, Matt Ivester, has posted an open letter his blog asking posters to be less mean. I hate to say it but when it comes to gossip, “juicy” is mean. Is there a reasonable solution to anonymous Internet gossip? Or should we grows accustomed and grow thicker skins? How do we balance freedom of speech and privacy? Let’s hear your thoughts!

Thanks for Catherine Bracy for the tip.