New website turns innocent remarks into malicious gossip

By Denebola
Published: November 2008

By Dan Friedman

In the fall of 1970, 18-year-old Hannah Sokol arrived at Brandeis University, ready to tackle her freshman year of college. She arrived, however, with considerably more baggage than the average student.

In addition to her school supplies and bedding, Sokol brought her six-month-old son, Jeremy. “I mean, those were the days when we would line up at the payphones on Sunday night to call our parents, Sokol said. “I kept to myself and figured out which kind of people would be supportive of me.

The people on my freshman floor, those 20 women, remain some of my best friends today. It was a very diverse group, and we spent a lot of time talking. [They] probably insulated me from the worst gossip.

Thirty years ago, a student like Sokol was able to go to college with a baby in tow and manage to avoid being targeted by other students on campus.

The campuses felt larger because the world was smaller. There were no online networks connecting campuses so that students could have up-to-the-second accounts of the latest gossip.

Today, with websites like Facebook.com and the newer, more controversial website JuicyCampus.com, students on campus would have known about Sokol’s baby within a day.

JuicyCampus.com is a gossip website that debuted onto the college campus scene on August 1, 2007. As of October 6, 2008, JuicyCampus.com is now available to 500 college campuses around the country. The site describes itself as “a place to spill the juice about all the crazy stuff going on at your campus.

One of the major reasons the site has raised so much controversy is because posts can be made anonymously. This anonymity allows students at colleges to write anything about anyone.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, websites like JuicyCampus.com are stripping students of the anonymity they once enjoyed on college campuses. There was no equivalent in Sokol’s day.

According to the website’s blog, the site was intended to be a place for “fun, light-hearted gossip. The gossip ranges from sexiest teachers to best places to find food. Unfortunately, some students use the site as a forum to insult others.

Nineteen-year-old Cassandra Arsenault, a sophomore at New York University, has had personal experience being abused by the site. Arsenault’s suitemate has a huge interest in the site and one day notified Arsenault that she had been written about.

“[The post] basically said that I wanted to be my [sorority] sister, Jess, Arsenaullt said. “Basically, [it said] that I was trying to be someone who I’m not. Me and Jess are really good friends, but I don’t understand why anyone would think that.

Arsenault is not alone. The site is attractive to angry students looking for a place to vent.

It is not uncommon to find lists labeled “hottest guys or “cokeheads. The site’s sudden explosion has attracted attention nationwide. The founder, Duke Alum Matt Ivester, has refused requests to shut down his site, citing immunity under federal law. Under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, JuicyCampus.com is protected from libelous statements made by third parties on their website. This has caused outrage, however, around the nation. Specifically, the Attorney Generals of New Jersey and Connecticut have taken steps to try and put an end to the website. In spite of all this attention, “there is a huge demand for a site where students can discuss the topics that interest them most, in the manner they deem most appropriate.

Despite all of the controversy, we’ve decided to keep JuicyCampus true to its roots, anonymous and uncensored. We’re very excited to be expanding to all of these new campuses, Ivester said.

Whatever people may feel about Ivester, there is no doubt he is changing the way we, as a society, view gossip.

What was once whispered between classes, or scrawled in bathroom stalls, is now posted on a site open to anyone with a computer and internet access. Gossip is no longer as easy to brush off or hide from.

Additionally, what is typed stays on the site for good. This opens up a whole new range of issues for students who feel they have been the targets of libelous statements. For college students trying to get jobs in the real world, JuicyCampus.com is simply one more thing to worry about.

In spite of Ivester’s remarks regarding his website, the fact remains that students like Arsenault can still be hurt by the site. “I’m a really confident person but I’m also an easily offended person. When I heard about it, I felt really, really bad about [the post]. I was upset for a couple of hours, and my self esteem went down a bit. I was just like, why would anyone say that? You don’t know who wrote it, but you wanna know and it’s kind of frustrating.

Another important change the site has brought about is shrinking colleges down to high school size.

“[The site is] a way for people to say really mean things about each other. It’s like high school all over again. People can say the meanest things they want and no one knows who said it, Arsenault said.

Most kids look forward to going to college and reveling in their newfound freedom and privacy. Sokol proves how easy it once was to avoid hateful remarks. The site takes what once was idle chatter, and petrifies it so that it lasts forever.

Another student at New York University, Sam Seligman, also felt the site does more harm than good. “It’s ridiculous to have a site specifically to anonymously trash people.

It’s hurtful to read true and untrue things about yourself and your friends. It’s just one more way the internet is making people less responsible for their actions, Seligman said.

Seligman’s close friend, who wished to remain anonymous, was also subject to extremely harmful gossip written about her on the site. The student, a virgin, was accused of being a “little skank, who “looks like a rodent with a tight little body, and should “do something about that face, because “[she] should have the money to… Comments like these are disgusting and unnecessary.

Another aspect of the website is its potential to affect what jobs a college student will get hired for. It is no secret that in today’s world, companies check student’s Facebook.com accounts to see if they drink or do drugs.

Now, there is simply an additional website that companies can check to read horrible things about potential clients.

Thirty years ago, Sokol’s administration didn’t even know she had a baby until half way through the school year. Since the digitization of gossip, students are worrying about issues that the previous generation could not have conceived of.

For college-bound high school students, this is simply another issue to contend with.

For current college students, only time will tell whether the site is allowed to stay up, or if it will eventually come down. College students can only hope that we return to the good old days of scrawled notes passed in class and hurried whispers in the dining hall.

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