College enters virtual campus grapevine

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September 16, 2008

4:21 PM

“I actually feel bad for his brothers who have to pretend they like him.” Those are harsh words to read about anyone, much less yourself, as Andrew Ullrich ’11 found out last week as he browsed Juicy Campus.

In a thread titled “People you hate,” one responder asserts, “andrew ullrich without a doubt.” In this and another thread — “why does everyone hate andrew ullrich so much?” — people tear apart his character.
“Some people really have some disdain for me,” Ullrich said.

Juicy Campus, which launched a page for the College of William and Mary Sept. 2, is an online forum that allows users to post comments completely anonymously. Essentially a slam book for the modern world, Juicy Campus encourages college students to “spill the juice about all the crazy stuff going on at your campus.”
The site took a couple days to catch on, but had attracted a following by the end of the first week. Posts ranged from sorority bashing to general callouts, with many people asking questions and few offering answers. As people grew comfortable with the site, more full names appeared.

One trend, common in response to many negative threads, is an onslaught of posts defending the honor of the person slandered. “Screw you,” one responder said. “Andrew U is the shit.”

Though he wonders who posted about him, Ullrich said he is not especially hurt.

“[The] comments themselves didn’t bother me at all,” he said. “It’s just that people say things they’d never say if they didn’t have an alias.”

He said he was most offended by the comments about other people he knows, such as a post about one of his fraternity brothers.

“To see that up there really infuriates me.”

So far, the College’s page features mostly mild, run-of-the-mill downers. Students at other colleges, including Columbia University and Princeton University, have had their reputations tarnished due to comments on the site. Most comments go no further than matching a name to a characteristic, whether it be labeling someone a slut or most hated. At this point, few posts tell detailed stories.

That is not to say comments aren’t hurtful. A thread titled “Rape/Sexual Assault: Guys to look out for,” identifies several students by name. While the comment asserts hope that “something good can come of this website,” a later response lambastes the thread: “did you consider, that this also could open the door to people lying about names of people who have done absolutely nothing.”

In response to, “What if I see a comment that just isn’t true?” among the site’s frequently asked questions, the Juicy Campus staff offers numerous explanations about how comments could be either opinion or a parody. The staff advises that readers should take everything with a grain of salt. The most concrete course of action the staff offers, however, is the admonition that “you should probably give a big thumbs down.”
Some have likened the site to Gossip Girl, the Perez Hilton-style rumor site in the hit show of the same name, but there are inherent differences. Even the cruel and calculating title character demands some credibility: In one of the final episodes last season, Gossip Girl says, “I’m tired of being the bearer of bad grudges. This is the last item that goes to press without proof.”

Juicy Campus requires no proof — it doesn’t even require an identity. The owners are fully aware of the damage the site is capable of causing; they seem to thoroughly enjoy it. According to the site’s FAQs, “Juicy Campus believes very strongly in free and anonymous speech online. We comply with lawful subpoenas because we have to, but if some university President called us asking for a favor, we’d tell him to go screw himself.”

But, many students at the College fear such anonymous free speech. Kappa Kappa Gamma made a sorority-wide decision not to participate in or promote in any way a website based on anonymous gossip. Individuals, too, worry about the damage it could cause.

“If someone really wants to ruin a guy’s reputation, they could mention something that would scare girls, like roofying,” Ullrich said.

Though he thought about responding to the posts about himself, he decided that would put him on the same level of the anonymous commenters.

“That’s not even something you need to stand up for,” he said. “It can only cause harm — anything you say, you should attach your name to.”

Juicy Campus spurred enough damaging rumors at Columbia earlier in the year that the student government called a special meeting to discuss banning the site. Similar bans have been discussed at schools from Pepperdine University to Duke University. At the College, where we value our strong sense of community, various posts assert that our school is above this. A response to one such post says, simply, “no we arent.”

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