The increasingly popular website JuicyCampus.com is totally changing college life (and I refuse on general principle to either visit it myself or link to it here because of the utter repugnance I’m feeling). The site, founded by Duke University graduate Matt Ivester, is a forum for college students to anonymously post the latest gossip about their postgraduate peers. There are horrible stories coming out, some lies, some gross exaggerations, and some, worst of all, the private confidences given by classmates to someone they believed to be their friend.
Perhaps the most extreme example is that of Vanderbilt student Chelsea Gorham, who was violently attacked and raped while getting a cup of coffee on a Nashville street. The devastated young lady, whose experience has heartbreaking shades of Alice Sebold’s memoir Lucky, left college for the rest of the semester to come to emotional grips from the comfort of her home. She returned to college in the fall, determined not to let her horrible experience ruin her education.
“It was very difficult to go through the routine of going to classes, going to my different activities. I had a few panic attacks. I wouldn’t go anywhere by myself after 5, and I sort of felt detached from the rest of my friends, even the ones who knew, because there were some of them that I still hadn’t told about what happened,” she said.
“I wasn’t ready to tell anybody about it yet. My friends that knew respected my decision, and I needed to be OK with myself before I let anybody else know.”
It turns out that Chelsea Gorham’s faith in her friends was horribly misguided, as she learned to her grief that spring about her status as hot gossip on JuicyCampus.com.
At first she was shocked that someone could be so ignorant as to blame a rape victim. Then she felt betrayed, knowing it must have been someone close to her because so few people knew. She said it felt almost like a second rape — a total loss of control over her situation, just as the wounds were starting to heal.
The post started to spread, and soon the whole campus seemed to know about the girl who’d been raped, and the posting on Juicy Campus.
“That was probably the hardest part — that people would come up and ask me about the post. In one case I came up to a group of people that I heard talking about the post, and they had forgotten whose name it was, but they were talking about the post that they had read on Juicy Campus, about somebody who had been raped,” she said.
“It takes the control away again,” said Chelsea. “It’s my story to tell, and no one else has the right to tell it. And that something like this was considered gossip is disgusting.”
Wow. Just … wow. The thing is, it isn’t just like someone wrote, “This girl at Vanderbilt got raped. Sucks to be her.” No, it went like this:
“Chelsea Gorman Deserved It.”
“what could she expect walking around there alone. everyone thinks she’s so sweet but she got what she deserved. wish i had been the homeless guy that f***** her. [sic]“
Gorham’s story is especially horrific, but she’s not alone as a victim of this disgusting site that exists “under the guise of ‘entertainment’.”
Want to find out who does drugs? Who’s gay? Who has STDs? What about the most promiscuous girls? The prettiest? You can find all of this information and much more on JuicyCampus.com.
Names and sometimes phone numbers and addresses are posted on the site, which has now spread to about 60 schools around the country. It was an instant hit, jumping from a few thousand to more than 250,000 page views in a matter of months. Students across the country couldn’t get enough of what was being written, and many were constantly checking to make sure their names didn’t appear.
“People can say things about someone they don’t know and there’s nobody out there to stop them,” said Rachel Wilkerson, a student at Michigan State University. “A lot of things I read on there are calling girls fat, or saying girls are sluts. Those are horrible things to say about women, and any Web site that promotes it and any person who would say those things, I just feel like is incredibly sexist and it just plays on girl’s insecurities, and I thought we left that behind after high school graduation.”
You know, I love the internet, I really do, but …
… it has opened the door to some serious bullying done in a highly public manner. It’s sick. Because Chelsea Gorham wanted to get a freaking coffee and was, through no fault of her own, the victim of a vicious attack was bad enough. Having it become public knowledge not just at her own school but all over the country (and beyond) is just unspeakable. It’s cyberbullying on a scale of which I just cannot fathom.
So how did JuicyCampus.com come to be? Matt Ivester decided to “create a website about all the ridiculous things we did and the hilarious stories.” There has been a mass outcry, including an official request from the vice president of student affairs at Duke, to “take down certain posts and better monitor what was being said,” but no dice.
Legally, Ivester can do whatever he wants with the site, short of allowing school threats.
“The communications Decency Act of 1996, which says that the Web site owner is fully immune from liability from anything, for anything that is posted there by a third party,” said Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation Defender, a company dedicated to helping people clear their names on the Web.
Despite this guy’s apparent sick pleasure in the misfortune of others (and his legal right to wallow in it), some people aren’t taking the matter sitting down. Anne Millgram, New Jersey’s Attorney General, is one of them.
“We believe that they’re engaged in unconscionable business practices and deceptive business practices, and we would seek to stop them from doing that in the state,” said Millgram.
Millgram was contacted several months ago by a parent of a student who was the subject of a negative posting on Juicy Campus.
Millgram said she realized that trying to take on the site over free speech was an uphill battle, so instead she went at it from a business point of view, investigating the site for consumer fraud.
“The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act prohibits unconscionable business practices, it prohibits deceptive business practices and what we found when we looked at the Web site is that the Web site was essentially saying here are its terms and conditions — you couldn’t post abusive content, you couldn’t post unlawful content, you couldn’t post things that were obscene or violated other people’s privacy,” Millgram said. “But then that’s exactly what was happening, and the Web site was doing nothing about it.”
Perhaps most noteworthy, though, is the outcry from college students across the country.
Pepperdine University’s student government tried to have the site banned from the school’s computers, and several Facebook groups with thousands of student members from around the country have sprung up against the site, imploring students to simply stop logging on.
Last month at Princeton students wore shirts saying “Anonymity = Cowardice.” They also signed positive statements about other students, projecting them on a screen for the entire campus to see in a campaign to regain harmony called “Own What You Think,” led by sophomore class president Connor Diemand-Yauman.
While I think this is promising, particularly the student voices speaking out about this bastard’s site, I can’t help but think about Chelsea Gorham and others who have been irreparably harmed. This hits me especially hard because, like Gorham, I was a rape victim while a college student.
Although the circumstances were somewhat different (I was engaging in far dumber behavior than merely hitting up Starbucks), I could not talk about it for over ten years. It might seem weird that I’m pretty open discussing it in a public forum now, but I think that’s because I spent a decade dealing with it privately. Had there been whispers on my campus, never mind lurid details sparking up the internet and sending blame in my direction, I would never have recovered. Ever.
To my mind and heart, this site crosses a very serious line, not in terms of legality but in terms of humanity. I am just speechless with disgust and anger that this is allowed to go on.
What do you think?