Friday, February 29, 2008

Backlash targets

I don't usually put up the whole of an article but I think it is needed in the case below:

"The Cornell University junior was in his dorm between classes when the text message came in from a friend. Check out, it said. The student found his name on the Web site beside a rambling, filthy passage about his sexual exploits, posted by an anonymous student on campus. The young man could only hope the commentary was so ridiculous nobody would believe it.

"I thought, `Is this going to affect my job employment? Is this going to make people on campus look at me? Are people going to talk about me behind my back?" said the student, who asked not to be identified. He also wondered about his 11-year-old sister, who is spending more time on the Internet. "What if she Googles me? What will she think about her big brother?" he said.

JuicyCampus' endless threads of anonymous innuendo have been a popular Web destination on the seven college campuses where the site launched last fall, including Duke, UCLA and Loyola Marymount. It recently expanded to 50 more, and many of the postings show they've been viewed hundreds and even thousands of times.

But JuicyCampus has proved so poisonous there are signs of a backlash. In campus debates over Internet freedom, students normally take the side of openness and access. This time, however, student leaders, newspaper editorials and posters on the site are fighting back - with some even asking administrators to ban JuicyCampus. It's a kind of plea to save the students, or at least their reputations, from themselves.

"It is an expression from our student body that we don't want this junk in our community," said Andy Canales, leader of the student government at Pepperdine, which recently voted 23-5 to ask for a ban. The vote came after a long and emotional debate on the limits of free speech, and was swayed by stories from students such as Haley Frazier, a junior residential adviser. She had recently come across a teary transfer student who had been humiliated on the site barely a week after arriving on campus. "I can't imagine the disgust she must have for Pepperdine if that's what (students) say," Frazier said.

College administrators say they are appalled by the site but have no control over it since students can see it outside the campus computer network. They say all they can do is urge students not to post items or troll for malicious gossip - and hope that in the process they learn about how to get along.

That tactic may be having an effect. At a number of campuses where JuicyCampus was a hot topic even just a few weeks ago, students and administrators say use and complaints have tapered off sharply. That's hard to confirm; Internet tracker comScore Inc. says the site's visitor numbers are too low to be counted by its system.


The defamation could have been dealt with by litigation but that would have been difficult and expensive so it is pleasing that informal measures seem to have led to at least a partial solution. It is a pity that the grubs responsible for the defamation have escaped retribution, though.