Gossip is no longer the thing of crowded hallways and slumber parties. With the launch of www.juicycampus.com on Oct. 27, 2007, gossip moved from angry scrawls on bathroom walls to a far more innocuous place – cyberspace.
JuicyCampus is a Web site where users can post anything about anybody, completely anonymously. User-initiated threads range from “Female Professor with Best Legs?” to “Confessions of a Coke Addicted Frat Boy,” and are replied to and rated by other users.
“It started as an idea,” said Matt Ivester, the Web site’s founder. “Thinking back to my college days, every group of friends has great stories, and crazy things going on. Why not have a place to share those stories?”
While there are undoubtedly some funny stories on JuicyCampus, some posts simply start with a name. This was the case for packaging sophomore Pete Tepler. Some people posted expletives about him, and one person toted him as the “funniest kid alive.” One poster admitted to not knowing Tepler, but contributed anyway. “I never met him,” states the reply, “but I’ll call him a dick and a fag because, well … that’s just what you’re supposed to do every time you see a name posted on this site.”
Tepler is aggravated by the post, and thinks there are better ways to get to know a person. “If you’re going to ask a bunch of random people about me that don’t even know me, why would you ask JuicyCampus?” he said.
According to Ivester, the beauty of the site is that people can remain anonymous. “People can be more open and honest,” Ivester said. However, he is quick to point out anonymity is a choice, not a mandate. “People have the option to be anonymous, but anybody that wants to can sign their name,” he said.
However, most of the site’s posts do not include names or contact information, which irks Tepler. “If you really believe in what you’re saying, and you really have a grievance with somebody, go and tell them,” he said.
One part of campus that was hit particularly hard by JuicyCampus was the Greek community. The Web site has a tab labeled “Greek Organizations,” which receives a lot of postings. Meagan Wilson, a journalism junior and vice president of communications for the Panhellenic Council, dislikes the site. The Panhellenic Council serves as the governing body for the university’s sororities, and as a representative for the council, Wilson’s job is to make Greek life look good. “I am doing positive PR [public relations] for the Greek community and JuicyCampus is definitely something that’s hurting us,” she said. “I think we’re hit hard because we’re an easy target – the Greek community is a small clique within itself.”
Although the “Greek Organizations” tab is open to positive submissions, they seem to be few and far between. There are postings about Greek Week successes, but in Wilson’s opinion, postings about the Greek community are surrounded by far too many negative comments. “They have things like rankings of sororities, and the ‘hottest houses,'” she said. “That’s what gives the Greek community a bad name – people posting things like that. Why can’t we talk about academics or philanthropy?”
The site was launched in October, after fall recruitment. According to Wilson, recruitment is very important to sororities. It takes 115 girls to have a financially healthy house, and the Panhellenic Council is clearly interested in keeping interest in the Greek community high. “It will be really interesting to see how fall recruitment numbers are affected,” she said.
While Tepler was pretty relaxed about the whole situation, he realizes it does not cast him in the best of light. “It was obviously an attempt to damage my reputation,” he said. “Does it bother me? A little bit. It’s just like being in high school again.”
Ivester is quick to point out students are using the site on their own accord, and JuicyCampus is neither forcing nor encouraging people to post malicious or reputation-damaging items. “I think different people get different things out of JuicyCampus, but obviously we’re filling some niche,” said Ivester.
The site has a section that explains the difference between fact and opinion, and asserts opinions are not always correct or fair. But for people like Tepler who have been affected by the site, this disclaimer is of little assurance. “I’ve never even been on the Web site,” Tepler said. “If you respond and defend yourself, you’re just giving them credibility.”
The site has been the topic of several lawsuits, one of which was from the Juicy clothing brand, who claimed JuicyCampus apparel was a form of copyright infringement. Some students seem to think the future of JuicyCampus is limited, because it will be shut down in a legal battle. However, both Tepler and Ivester disagree.
“We don’t anticipate shutting down anytime soon,” Ivester said. And Tepler, even having been posted about, sees it as an interesting business venture. “Somebody is making money off it, and I respect that,” Tepler said. “I think it’s going to keep going… some people don’t mature until they’re 30 or 40. The site is bringing aspects of middle school into college, and it seems to be working.”
Even though there are undoubtedly people who would like to see the site shut down, it is pretty well protected by the First Amendment. Where do we balance the right to free speech with the sometimes far-reaching effects of rumors presented as truths? According to Wilson, the law favors the First Amendment. “We talked to some MSU attorneys about what to do,” she said. “If you’re being individually defamed, then you can take action, but really there’s not much you can do about it.”
The Greek community chose instead to fight JuicyCampus from the inside. According to Wilson, some sororities are encouraged not to talk about the subject, or have taken even greater measures. “I know some houses have it set up so that their wireless blocks the JuicyCampus link, so that could help,” she said.
Legalities aside, the site took off rapidly, with little advertising. “Mostly we rely on word of mouth, which we think is appropriate for a gossip Web site,” Ivester said. Word has spread quickly, and JuicyCampus now covers more than 60 campuses nationwide. While the numbers regarding MSU’s specific users are not released, it is safe to say that via numerous postings, Facebook ads and word of mouth, the gossip site has gained a foothold and a following on this campus, as well as many others. But hey… that’s just a rumor.