Staff Editorial: College slanders in secret

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September 19, 2008

8:24 PM

There’s no stopping Juicy Campus. Only a few days after appearing at the College, the gossip site ballooned into one of the most popular web destinations around here, its tendrils spreading into all facets of campus life. Perhaps we should have expected it. After all, Facebook already fed on our voyeuristic desires, but Juicy Campus — Juicy Campus offers something more sinister.

It’s a place where speculation mingles with fact, a place that caters to the lowest common denominator. So far, the College community has been all too happy to oblige. At an institution that created the Honor Code and skims from the nation’s top students, though, we’d expect better. We’d expect restraint and civilized conduct.

When College administrators unveiled the new Bias Reporting System last fall, students and alumni alike cried foul. Anonymity, they argued, created a huge potential to abuse the system. It would allow anyone to take down a campus figure simply by submitting a bias claim, truthful or not, said the system’s critics. It was simply too destructive to be allowed.

But when Juicy Campus arrived, the College community forgot its outrage. Instead, it responded with locker-room curiosity. “Who’s our biggest slut?” it wondered, and students happily supplied the names, tens of them. In fact, “easiest girl”-related threads are consistently among the most popular posts. This outpouring of sexual frustration would be almost laughable if only it didn’t require real human beings. But of course, that ability to expose is exactly what makes Juicy Campus so attractive. How anonymity emboldens.

Although both feature anonymity, compared to the Bias Reporting System, Juicy Campus’s potential for libel is enormous. Nothing exists to assure the veracity of any claims on the site, so the only thing stopping that guy you kicked out of the party last weekend from calling you a sexual predator is his conscience. The law has made it extremely difficult to seek recourse in such cases, however. Anonymity creates a series of legal and technical obstacles that, even when overcome, might still leave the plaintiff in search of a poster’s true identity. In fact, Juicy Campus recommends that posters use a proxy to avoid any liability.

On similarly afflicted campuses around the country, talk has turned toward banning or blocking the website. Much as we dislike Juicy Campus and the potential for its abuse, we can’t advocate that approach. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to post on such sites, and intuitively, that makes sense. Allowing the College to block Juicy Campus could lead to further attempts to stifle expression. To encourage worthwhile dialogue, we must put up with the objectionable content as well. Moreover, federal law protects providers from any liability on the grounds that they can’t keep track of, and thus can’t be held responsible for, all the posts. Eliminating this law could eliminate the problem, but it would also eliminate valuable anonymous speech, like Wikipedia.

Taken together, that means Juicy Campus is legally in the clear, but it offers precious little consolation for anyone on the receiving end. So while we won’t say that visiting Juicy Campus makes you a bad person, we’ll at least offer this: Remember you’re discussing real humans, with real lives, real desires and real emotions. Act accordingly.

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