Juice, the Whole Juice and Nothing but the Juice
Thursday, October 30, 2008
The Georgetown University students had some questions for gossip Web site founder Matt Ivester. Such as, why can't you prevent people's reputations from being smeared on your site? Why don't you take down the racist comments? Do you know some students are so distraught about the things said about them that they might drop out of school?
And, how do you sleep at night?
It was the first time that Ivester had taken questions from students anywhere about JuicyCampus.com, the fast-growing gossip Web site he created that is igniting controversies on campuses across the country. It encourages people to post gossip anonymously. And so they do, naming names and spreading detailed rumors about sex, drugs, college life and sex. Well, mostly about sex.
It's not unlike the bathroom wall at a dive bar, except that anyone, anywhere, can read it. And it never gets erased or painted over.
A moderator started the Georgetown session by reading a question that many of the students had asked: Is stuff on this site going to keep me from getting a job? Because even if the site's users and readers know to take it all with a grain of salt, employers might not be amused.
Ivester told the students that a Google search would not dig up JuicyCampus posts; the site is coded to block search engines, he said.
But with many Georgetown students considering jobs in the U.S. Foreign Service or another government post for which they would undergo intensive background checks, the moderator said, couldn't this, in fact, jeopardize some people's chances?
"I think they're going to have to start developing a sense of humor," said Ivester, who is JuicyCampus's chief executive. "It's not going to work if they start taking unsubstantiated, ridiculous gossip as the truth."
Ah, but that's the trouble. It might not be the truth, and it might be only gossip, but once it's posted, it's out there for all who wish to look at it. And lots of people are looking. The year-old site is bubbling away on 500 campuses and prompting talk of lawsuits, investigations by two state attorneys general, hate groups on the social networking site Facebook and votes by several student governments to ban it from campus. Twice, police have swooped in to investigate students who threatened mass shootings online.
It's an example, several lawyers specializing in new media said, of the way technology is changing far more swiftly than the law.
And it's the latest sign of the rapidly eroding privacy of a generation that, through social networks such as Facebook and media such as videos and cellphone cameras, are tearing down walls that their parents and grandparents had always thought were solid.
"The fact is," Ivester told the students who packed the auditorium Tuesday night, "the Internet is changing privacy as we know it."