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Good Riddance: Juicy Campus Dries Up

JuicyCampus.com, the Internet gossip board that turned into a vehicle for vicious personal attacks on college campuses across the country, is dead.

The site, which I wrote about last year, drew a million or so unique visitors a month to its mix of routine college gossip and stunningly personal libels of students by full name. Cause of death: The fairly common web disease of lacking a consistent source of revenue.

In his farewell note, JuicyCampus founder Matt Ivester credits the company with generating "meaningful discussion about online privacy and internet censorship," and that's true to some extent, but any thoughtful debate that may have come out of the site's brief run pales next to the personal damage wrought by an untamed message board that absolved itself of any responsibility for protecting the rights of people who were slimed beyond any rational bounds.

The site's rules encouraged college students to name names and accuse fellow students of all manner of bad behavior, such as this entry about a University of Virginia woman who was named on JuicyCampus, but will not be named here: "Will sleep with any guy."

The site's founder always protested that this wasn't the sort of thing he'd set up the business to handle. But his own rules fostered the sleazy gossip:

From the site's FAQ:

"Is the site really anonymous?"

"There is no way for someone using the site to find out who you are. And we at JuicyCampus . . . prefer not to know who you are."

"How do I remove a comment I posted?"

"You can't. Once it's out there, it's out there."

Ivester writes that "online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved," a situation familiar to many web businesses these days. The colleges where JuicyCampus caused so much harm struggled to find some way to curb the site's excesses and, for the most part, properly held back from any attempt to limit free speech. But this is one rare case in which the market has spoken clearly: Censorship isn't the way to do it, but people coming together to decide they want nothing to do with this sort of business can still send an important message.

By Marc Fisher |  February 4, 2009; 6:28 PM ET
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Comments

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This was not a free-speech issue. Colleges and Universities had (and have) legitimate concerns about slanderous statements as it is to be assumed that many would have been made using some form of college-owned resources (computers and/or network bandwidth). This opens colleges to liability, and colleges not taking steps to prevent sites whose main purpose seems to be promoting slander from being used for such through college-maintained resources are being both foolish and unethical.

Posted by: pikaart | February 4, 2009 7:02 PM

22nd century version of the scarlet letter?

Posted by: biffgriff | February 4, 2009 7:41 PM

The problem with this site is that is was so easy to either defame or libel a person anonymously, and Ivester just dismissed that.

More and more, potential employers are Googling and looking up candidates online. It's not like this was just word-of-mouth stuff on campus that died when you left campus, it persisted for anyone who did a Google search.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 5, 2009 1:59 PM

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