College-orientated website under investigation for online bullying

March 31, 2008

Austen Manness is a senior at Pepperdine University in Malibu, who describes himself as a typical 22-year-old guy.

But imagine his horror on finding an anonymous internet posting that described him in crude, X-rated terms.

“They wrote that I was in a gay relationship with one of my fraternity brothers,” Austen Manness said. “And that I liked having sex with overweight women.”

Austen is one of the latest victims of a disturbing new, internet-age college It is promoted as an edgy website where college students can share gossip. In truth it is like a public bathroom wall full of sexist, racist remarks on students’ sex lives, drug use and drunkeness.

Those who post comments remain anonymous. Those they attack have their names dragged through the cyber-mud.

“It sucks to think there are people out there who dislike you enough to go online to write about you anonymously,” Mr Manness said.

The founder of JuicyCampus, Matt Ivester, also wishes to remain anonymous. He refuses to speak on camera, but on his blog he called his site “entertaining,” if sometimes “mean spirited.”

Like at a number of colleges around the country, Pepperdine’s student government moved to ban the site.SOT: (Andy Canales, Student Body President)

“This website makes it easier for people to spread lies and rumours,” student body president Andy Canales said. “It is accessible to anybody in the world and that is what makes it different.”

The University refused to ban the site on First Amendment grounds.

Constitutional scholars agree.

“For a place that is supposed to be a marketplace for ideas, they don’t want to get into the business of censoring website,” Greg Lukianoff said.

JuicyCampus might not be outside the First Amendment, but it still might be outside the law. The State of New Jersey is going after the site for consumer fraud, telling advertisers it’s benign and friendly when actually it is hurtful and vile.

“Young adults have committed suicide from messages posted by cyber bullies,” Abbe Gluck from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office said. “We think it’s very different from cafeteria high school gossiping and has to be taken very seriously.”

Even the website admits that hate is not juicy.