NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
Don’t have a life? Spend your time surfing Juicy Campus, which recently added Marshall University to its 500 institutions. A survey reveals word "tags" and a few comments (and retorts) about a fraternity, sorority, or individual.
Unlike a "forum" the site seeks "gossip" and it’s unfiltered. So, this site allows a point / counterpoint structure with some posts written as if they came from Judd Apatow’s "Superbad" or "Pineapple Express." Call it an inferior attempt at re-inventing Facebook before it hit mainstream.
An article in the Charleston Gazette partly misrepresents concern hype.
Surveying there is just not enough topics and replies for Marshall University or WVU to bemoan internet speech gone array.
One thread rates a couple of fraternities and sororities — based on parties and hot looking members . Another in a few sentences trashes a female, followed by a ‘say it ain’t so’ defense, and a thread ending, how does anyone know whom to believe.
Nominations do exist for campus ‘hoe’ for both schools, but MU had so little activity that when you click on the "best bets" around town , few actual nominations have been entered. What type of best bets? Easiest class, best pickup line, top five fraternities, top five sororities, best place to live off campus, best place to live on campus, best bar, easiest bar to get into and best theme party.
WVU has two or three nominated bars or restaurants. Others are benign, such as "cutest couples." However, the site tends to be a Greek pro and con shouting match.
The longest thread has 15 replies, most average three or four. The total replies for the week were less than 100. (Total replies for MU around 500 ) The site counts the number of views for each topic, but does not tell how many were repeat viewers. Those numbers, though, are in the hundreds.
Bill Bissett, Marshall University chief of staff and vice president of communications, told the Gazette the university has not received any complaints about the site, but is aware of it and others that use "anonymous posts with ugly comments.
"Juicy Campus has all the credibility of a bathroom wall," Bissett said. "At this point, it has all the sophistication of an angry mob. There is no way to know if the people who post on this site have any connection whatsoever with Marshall University, or even have any information about the people they’re posting about."
However, Tennessee State University in Nashville and a few private (mostly religious based) ones have banned the site from their servers.
Quoted in The Tennessean, Michael Freeman, TSU Vice President of Student Affairs commented that after the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where a student who was mentally ill killed 32 others and himself, university administrators have to take the Web more seriously. [ A similar scrutiny of speech has occurred since September 11, 2001, too.]
"Our world is very, very different," Freeman said. "And this notion of take a break … we don’t have that luxury to say this is just harmless."
He said JuicyCampus.com’s content wasn’t consistent with the university’s mission, and a parent called to complain about a student’s name mentioned on the site.
Site Founder Matt Ivestor told the Tennessee newspaper, "It’s censorship and insulting. They are basically saying they don’t trust their students."
Two First Amendment organizations have entered the discussion, but have not yet backed up their thoughts with a civil rights complaint.
Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, "It’s not about defending the material, but the right to say it. We have to accept the fact that people will say, post, write things that we don’t like. There is a vast range of things people may not like. Where does it stop?"
A lengthy column appeared on the website of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Right’s in Education) citing U.S. Supreme Court case law which would apparently overturn the decision of the college administration. A member of the organization compared it loosely to celebrity gossip sites, such as TMZ.com or political blogs like Wonkette.
Robert Shibley wrote in a November 20, 2008 FIRE column: : "If the users of JuicyCampus stopped posting salacious gossip on the site, that gossip simply would not exist. The "problem," then, is the unfettered expression of students that the site makes possible. Critics of the site say that it invites students to libel one another through lies and rumor-mongering. While the website certainly does make this possible, so do countless other Internet forums that allow either pseudonymous or completely anonymous posts. The reason that JuicyCampus has caught on as a forum for anonymous campus gossip while other sites have not … appears solely to be due to effective marketing and the apparent desire of students to have a place to go online where they can gossip anonymously. JuicyCampus did not create the problem of gossip -a problem so old that it is referred to multiple times in the Bible -but it has shined a light upon the kind of gossip that goes on in our society and on our campuses, and many people don’t like what they see."
He continues: ""We are alarmed by the willingness of many universities in this nation to consider, and of Tennessee State to actually put in place, a block on an Internet site. College students are not children who need to be protected from harmful words. They are (with a few exceptions) adults who have the same political and expressive rights as any other adult in our society. Blocking JuicyCampus on public university campuses opens a door to censorship that our society absolutely cannot afford to open. If a site with simple college gossip is deemed to be so awful that it can be blocked from a university’s network, how in the world can we justify not blocking "hate sites" that might have racist, bigoted, or sexist views? If we block some hate sites and not others, are we endorsing those we do not block? And if we are willing to block sites that promote "hate," is there any reason at all to block sites that merely promote ideals that are at odds with those of the university, such as those that might scorn "diversity training" or "tolerance?" At some point, you begin to hear the unmistakable footsteps of Big Brother behind you -particularly when the government is funding the universities that are engaging in this kind of censorship."
After citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent that not libelous gossip is protected expression, he concludes that the internet created not a problem but a challenge for academia:
"Students faculty, and administrators need to come to terms with the fact that the Internet is changing how people communicate. It functions to quickly and efficiently disseminate information, but takes away some of the ability for people to determine the source of that information and whether or not it is true.
(FIRE President Greg Lukianoff pointed this out in a Huffington Post column from March.) Those targeted can’t be blamed for being upset about it, but those reading need to realize that what is posted anonymously on the Internet can be far removed from the truth. Most entertainment is fiction, and JuicyCampus is probably no exception.
Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and now JuicyCampus are rapidly shrinking the private sphere, nearly always with the consent of the users themselves. At some point we as a society will come to a new understanding of how relationships and communication will work in a connected world. JuicyCampus, and the way we respond to it, will help determine what this balance will be."
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Fire website defines Marshall as a "red light" university with one or more policies that "both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. For full definition, visit: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/5823.html#red . The website states that FIRE complained in 2006 about racially restricted orientation classes at MU, which was resolved. http://www.thefire.org/index.php/case/720.html)
Schools: Marshall University