Florida students dish dirt on gossip Web site

TAMPA — Billed as "Always Anonymous, Always Juicy," JuicyCampus.com says its sole purpose is to provide a forum for college students to gossip.

Just find your school and post. No filters. No mercy.

Consider these popular "Juicy" topics: Who is gay? Who snorts coke? Who has a sexually transmitted disease?

The site has shaken campuses nationwide.

There was the Duke undergrad who felt she couldn't go to school for three weeks after someone said she had attempted suicide.

The Colgate University student arrested after threatening in a Juicy post to go on a classroom shooting rampage.

And the Vanderbilt rape victim who logged on and read, "She got what she deserved."

Almost a year after the site's launch, officials at local universities thought they had nothing to worry about.

Until now.

Which girls in USF sororities are most likely to put out?

It's heeeere.

• • •

Both the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa made the list of new additions to JuicyCampus in September, the same month the Web site grew from 60 schools to 500.

It took a while to catch on locally, but in recent days, student Angela Martin has watched USF posts grow exponentially.

"It went from 10 posts to, like, 1,000," Martin said. "I can just see it's going to be bad."

Someone wrote an offensive post about President Judy Genshaft. Fraternity brothers are being accused of hazing, date rape and drug use. Sorority sisters, of promiscuity, pregnancy and eating disorders. They're scared about who will read it, especially parents and future employers.

JuicyCampus has taken off a little more slowly at UT, with just a few pages of posts instead of USF's dozen-plus.

But the venom is just as strong.

One poster wrote, You can't spell "Slut" without "UT." In response to an attack, a UT student wrote, im 1100 miles from home, and … this is the last s--- i needed, i didnt even know this site existed.

He encouraged his attacker to "step up" so they could fight. He isn't the first to issue a threat.

A USF student writes, in defense of a friend, ill hunt ur a-- down i promise 2 god!!!!

As Martin watches this site go viral — in every sense of the word — she says, "I can't even believe this is actually legal."

• • •

Experts say JuicyCampus.com is protected by federal law; specifically, Title 47, U.S.C. Section 230, which makes Web sites immune to prosecution for the actions of their users.

Marc Randazza, an adjunct law professor at Barry University in Miami Shores puts it this way: If you're a blogger and post defamatory material on your blog, you can be held liable, but the site that provided the template can't.

And if someone posts a defamatory comment on your blog, the comment-maker, not you, can face penalties.

Many of the comments made on JuicyCampus.com could be prosecuted as defamatory in court — if the identity of the poster was revealed.

But JuicyCampus.com reveals its users only if subpoenaed. The site cooperated with police to identify a student who threatened a campus shooting rampage.

Almost all posts are left on the site, no matter how much its subject protests. JuicyCampus.com will consider — but not guarantee — removing posts that disclose contact information.

The site's frequently asked questions include: Why don't you remove more posts?!?

Well, that's called censorship, and we're just not that into it. But China is, so if you're interested in moving, we've provided a link below with some helpful information. …

• • •

At the center of it all — the avalanche of news stories, the swirl of spilled secrets — is Matt Ivester, just three years out of college.

After his graduation from Duke and subsequent job at a New York consulting firm, Ivester, 25, moved to Silicon Valley and focused on his first love — entrepreneurship.

He wanted to start a college Web site, one that captured the essence of his best memories from Duke: the drunken stories, wild parties, quirky professors. JuicyCampus.com would be a place to share "crazy high jinks."

Ivester now calls some of the posts he reads "distasteful" and "awful," but refuses to remove most, and says he feels no guilt for the hurt they cause.

"I don't see anything wrong or even controversial with the idea that we provide a forum where students can talk about the things that interest them most," he said.

Ivester won't say how much money the site has made from the advertising it sells, but says it's still in the red. He's already planning future upgrades.

He'll have help from his staff of 20, which includes a legal team. And a public relations firm, based in Beverly Hills.

• • •

As president of the USF Panhellenic Council, the governing body of sororities, Angela Martin has no idea how to deal with JuicyCampus.com.

"Do I bring it up and then cause almost everybody who doesn't know about it to go on there?" she asks.

Campuses across the nation have faced that same question: What to do?

At the University of Florida, which was added to JuicyCampus.com in February, student body president Kevin Reilly did some research. He learned that the attorney general of New Jersey had launched an investigation of the site.

Reilly wrote to Florida's attorney general, Bill McCollum. He spoke of suicide and stalking and sexual predators, and asked McCollum to start his own investigation. McCollum has not done so, but a spokeswoman said he is keeping tabs on the New Jersey case.

At UT, the dean of students, Bob Ruday, heard about JuicyCampus months ago, but had no idea it had gotten to his school. Last week, he started calling officials at other Florida schools to see what ideas they had.

Peter Arrabal, editor in chief of UT's the Minaret, says he laughed when he read trash talk about his newspaper. He calls it "free speech" and "entertainment," and doesn't believe most of what he reads.

"I think when people start taking it too seriously, things are going to go south with it," he said.

At USF, where things have gone more south, student body president Greg Morgan plans to bring it up at his next Cabinet meeting.

And Robert Brann, president of USF's Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter, e-mailed his brothers, telling them to stay away from the site. Brann, who has been attacked there, said he wishes there were a way to block it.

There is, but most colleges don't want to resort to blocking it from their school network. They worry that doing so could set a precedent for further restrictions on free speech. Two small Christian universities, Samford in Alabama and Millsaps in Mississippi, are among those that have.

Students from both have still found ways to post.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Florida students dish dirt on gossip Web site 11/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 3, 2008 12:31pm]

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