JuicyCampus Revisited: Remembering FIRE’s Calls for Moderation

By October 30, 2008

With America’s college students long since back for fall semester, it’s of little surprise that lately we at FIRE have seen a resurgence in coverage devoted to the online gossip site JuicyCampus.com, a site where college students from around the country can gossip anonymously about people and events on their campuses. To the horror of many and the shock of few, the conversation on JuicyCampus can tend toward the R-rated (or worse), and may sometimes even be blatantly libelous.

With JuicyCampus the flashpoint of renewed controversy, and with numerous administrations and student governments contemplating moves such as banningor encouraging the banof access to the site from university networks, it’s worth revisiting a pair of articles from earlier this year, in which FIRE advocated a measured, pragmatic approach to dealing with any fallout from messages posted on the site.

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s March column in The Huffington Post points out that as rude and offensive as the comments on JuicyCampus can be, they remain for the most part protected speech. As he notes, "Thankfully for everyone from Bill Maher to Samantha Power to Dick Cheney, the Supreme Court has long recognized that even rude speech is free speech."

"Furthermore," Greg writes, "campuses should not get in the habit of blocking websites. Blocks are easy to circumventbut more importantly, colleges and universities have a special obligation as ‘marketplaces of ideas’ to avoid censorship. Any attempt to prevent students from seeing content they abhor online opens the door to censoring merely uncomfortable speech or dissent."

And as FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley wrote on The Torch in March, "the urge to censor, when indulged, is often self-defeating. Instead of repressing information, the very fact of censorship often guarantees still more attention to that which one is trying to suppress."

An editorial published in the New Haven Register authored by Margarita Díaz, chairwoman of the department of journalism at Quinnipiac Universitywhere the student council recently passed a resolution asking the administration to block JuicyCampus from the university’s networkillustrates the potential for abuse by university administrations.

Writes Díaz: "It seems to me the outrage would be better directed at students whose idea of free speech involves causing harm and hurting other people, under the cloak of anonymity." But as Will’s post rebuts, "anonymous internet comments are just that: anonymous internet comments. In the year 2008, American college students, of all people, should possess the unique understanding that what one reads online is not always the whole truth and nothing but, especially when cloaked in anonymity."

Diaz concludes by stating that "Banning a Web site is not going to make our campus a better place. Effectively dealing with the hatemongers among us certainly will." But given the ineptitude with which university administrators have tried to "deal" with alleged "hatemongers" at places like Brandeis University and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, this is not a prospect that we should relish. (Perhaps even more so at Quinnipiac, considering QU’s less than sterling record on campus expression as of late.)

Greg’s solution remains far preferable: "People should deal with JuicyCampus simply by ignoring it."