Cutting off the grapevine


Some students are asking schools to block access to anonymous gossip sites





It is not unusual to hear stories about administrators in higher education censoring student media; what is strange is when the students ask officials to censor content.

Juicy Campus, a controversial and self-proclaimed gossip Web site, has drawn wide attention and criticism from students and administrators for hosting user-created content that many consider libelous.

Many of the site’s discussions center on topics considered to be vulgar, from “Who are the biggest sluts on campus?” to “The boys most likely to send you home with an STD.”

While benign discussions exist, the site generally is a sounding board for airing taboo topics about students, frequently calling them out by name.

Its critics say Juicy Campus should be liable for the site’s content. But Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Juicy Campus is protected under the federal Communications Decency Act, and cannot be held liable for content posted by visitors rather than the site’s owners.

“The short answer is that it is not responsible for content that it didn’t create,” Zimmerman said.

This, however, has not stopped the site’s critics from trying to reduce Juicy Campus’s influence.

In January, the Student Government Association at Pepperdine University passed a resolution asking the administration to ban the Web site from the campus network, quickly prompting student governments elsewhere to consider similar resolutions.

As of yet, no school is known to have banned the site from its campus network. At the two schools where the student government passed such legislation -— Pepperdine and Baylor University — campus administrators have refused to block the site.

“I find it hard to believe that universities are going to take the suggestion seriously,” Zimmerman said.

Lori Fogleman, director of media communications at Baylor University, said Juicy Campus is “predicated on anonymous gossip and is full of malicious, hateful, dishonest and degrading things,” but that Baylor does not block any Web sites except those devoted to pornography.

However, Fogleman also said, “The University is considering what options we might have to force the site to remove references to Baylor.”

When asked if universities legally could block content like Juicy Campus, Zimmerman said public college and universities would find it difficult to block content without violating the First Amendment.

Zimmerman said that even with indecent content, courts have raised First Amendment concerns about libraries filtering out content at public colleges and universities.

Zimmerman said that private universities would function like other Internet service providers and have the power to decide whether they want to block content.

With little support from administrators to block the site, students have adopted different forms of protest, such as the creation of anti-Juicy Campus groups on Facebook and posting large blocks of literary text to disrupt the message threads.

Still other campuses adopted different approaches, such as Princeton University’s “Own What You Think” campaign that was highlighted in The Daily Princetonian.

The initiative urged students to sign a petition that declared actions like “posting malicious gossip and opinions on online websites” as “particularly cowardly.” The campaign also targeted actions like the tearing down of posters at Princeton and writing hateful messages in common areas of campus.

The Princeton model represents a departure from calls for the Web site to be blocked from campuses.

“I don’t think the university should have that power,” said Conner Dieman-Yauman, Class of 2010 president and an organizer of the campaign. “I think it is a real slippery slope and could encourage censorship and what we could access.”


reports, Spring 2008