Lawsuits, Weak Economy Kill JuicyCampus.com

Published February 05, 2009

| Associated Press

Critics hoped the better angels of human nature would kill off the popular campus gossip site JuicyCampus.com. Some prosecutors were trying to use the law to do the trick.

In the end, the site's much-criticized founder insisted he was merely the latest victim of the economic downturn.

In any case, the site one college official recently called a "virtual bathroom wall" of hateful and degrading speech was offline Thursday — much to the relief of administrators and many students nationwide.

"We're very happy," said Erika Lowe, vice president of the student government at Western Illinois University, which had been working with administrators to block the site from campus computers there. "While we support free speech, there was nothing positive coming out of this Web site. It only served to dampen spirits and ruin friendships."

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But JuicyCampus was popular. Following its launch on seven campuses in 2007, it spread nationwide, and founder Matt Ivester said the site was getting more than 1 million unique visitors monthly.

He said it was all in good fun, but the anonymity the site granted its gossip-posters seemed to bring out the worst in people.

Fraternities and sororities cruelly attacked each other. Typical discussion threads included "Biggest slut on campus" and "easiest freshmen."

Others identified women who had gained weight and one post named a rape victim and said she "deserved it."

Several student government associations asked their colleges to block access to the site from campus networks, and a handful — including Tennessee State and Hampton — did so.

New Jersey prosecutors, meanwhile, were investigating whether the company was violating the state's Consumer Fraud Act. No charges were filed.

The site appeared to be protected by a federal law absolving Web sites of responsibility for what their users post. And most colleges decided they couldn't get into the business of picking and choosing sites to block. So they urged students to stay away and quietly hoped this day would come.

"To be tactful, I'm not disappointed," said David Maxwell, president of Drake University in Iowa.

He had received complaints from parents and students, but declined to block the site when student leaders asked him to consider doing so.

"We certainly value the university environment as a safe haven for expression," Maxwell said. But academic freedom "also requires you to be held responsible for what you say. The anonymity of JuicyCampus was really a concern for us."

A public-relations firm representing the company said Ivester was unavailable for a telephone interview Thursday, and the site was already offline.

But in a farewell note on a separate blog site, Ivester wrote that "in these historically difficult economic times, online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved."

He denied that legal troubles were to blame, or that advertisers were avoiding JuicyCampus because of its content. The site employed about 20 people, according to spokesman Steven Wilson.

Ivester said posts would no longer be publicly available, and the site's privacy policy would continue — it would not release IP addresses without a subpoena. The site has said it blocks its discussion board from being indexed by search sites like Google.

He did acknowledge some users had gone overboard.

"While there are parts of JuicyCampus that none of us will miss — the mean-spirited posts and personal attacks — it has also been a place for the fun, lighthearted gossip of college life. I hope that is how it is remembered," he wrote, before signing off: "Keep it juicy."

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