College gossip Web site in legal squeeze

By Victoria Boggiano

JuicyCampus.com, a nationwide college message board known for posts with titles like “Sluttiest girl” or “Best rack (real or fake) on campus???,” is under legal scrutiny for possible consumer-fraud violations. This winter, Dartmouth’s page was one of many on JuicyCampus.com to gain popularity by allowing anonymous postings of anything and everything about members of the faculty and student body.

New Jersey’s E-Commerce Investigative Unit issued a subpoena to JuicyCampus.com last week asking for details about how the site chooses participating campuses, how bloggers’ school affiliations are verified and how the site ensures that posters are either 18 years of age and older or fill out the required Parental Consent Form. According to a press release from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, the site, started in August 2007, may violate the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act by misrepresenting itself to the public. For instance, while JuicyCampus.com’s User Conduct Terms prohibit offensive material and state that it may be removed from the site, JuicyCampus.com seems to lack the ability to counteract such content, the press release said.

Investigators also issued subpoenas to the advertising sites AdBrite Inc. and Google in the hopes of learning how JuicyCampus.com initially represented itself and subsequently violated its terms of service. Both companies have since severed ties with JuicyCampus.com after previously posting advertisements on the site.

The investigation began following complaints from a student at Princeton University who claimed to have been slandered in posts that included her address, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Princeton is located in New Jersey and is one of JuicyCampus.com’s “supported campuses.”

Company founder Matt Ivester, who graduated from Duke University in 2005, told the Associated Press last month that JuicyCampus.com can benefit college students despite its controversial nature.

“Like anything that is even remotely controversial, there are always people who demand censorship,” he said. “However, we believe that JuicyCampus can have a really positive impact on college campuses, as a place for both entertainment and free expression.”

In stark contrast to Ivester’s claims, students around the country have expressed outrage at the site’s lack of censorship policies. According to an article in The Chronicle, the student governing bodies at a number of colleges are requesting that administrators take action against JuicyCampus by methods such as removing the Web site from campus networks. The Columbia College Student Council at Columbia University banned access to the site from campus computers, according to United Press International. Some universities have policies against banning sites.

The three most popular posts on Princeton’s message board – “Most overrated Princeton student,” “Sluttiest Girl” and “bicker surprises,” which refers to the deliberations for entry into Princeton’s eating clubs – have together been viewed over 10,000 times, according to a February article in The Daily Princetonian. Despite this popularity, Princeton administrators have not taken steps to censor the site. The article states that university spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said in an e-mail that “it is not the university’s policy to prohibit access to Web sites for reasons not related to preventing criminal enterprises or acts.”

Dartmouth students have not protested JuicyCampus.com in the way students have at peer universities. While some posts on Dartmouth’s message board advocate an end to lewd or offensive posts, students have made no effort to contact administrators. Taylor Dryman ’09 stated that she is not surprised by the campus’s reaction because JuicyCampus.com is not as popular at Dartmouth as it is at other schools.

“I just don’t think people here know that much about it,” Dryman said. “I haven’t really heard anything at all about it on campus, so I feel like it isn’t widely used enough for students to feel concerned enough to take action.”