Online gossip forum JuicyCampus.com came under attack this past week after state officials charged that the Web site’s “always anonymous and always juicy” posts violate consumer protection laws.
California officials are now attempting to launch a fraud investigation following legal action taken last week by the attorney general offices of New Jersey and Connecticut. After the two states charged JuicyCampus.com with violating its own terms and conditions and misleading users, California Assemblyman Alberto Torrico authored a letter to Attorney General Edmund G. Brown requesting an investigation.
JuicyCampus.com is an online forum where students can anonymously post “juicy” gossip concerning their respective college communities. The site contains pages of rumors that users can read, reply to and rank in terms of “juiciness.”
The majority of the posts target the greek system and range from remarks about favorite rock bands to allegations of sexual impropriety and drug abuse. In the past few months the site has created controversy at other schools such as Pepperdine University, where the student government called for a ban on the Web site from school servers, and at Loyola Marymount University, where a student was arrested on charges that he posted a death threat on JuicyCampus.com.
In a written statement to the attorney general, Torrico described Juicy Campus as a “dangerous campus gossip Web site that may be spreading libelous information, propagating hate speech, and endangering the safety of women on campuses across the state.” Torrico demanded an aggressive investigation to determine whether the site was violating consumer protection laws and state civil rights.
While the user conduct section of JuicyCampus.com’s terms and conditions prohibits users from posting any content that is defamatory, obscene, libelous or invasive of another’s privacy and threatens to report violators to applicable authorities, the site does not monitor content.
The New Jersey and Connecticut general attorney offices say that because Juicy Campus claims to ban libelous content – but fails to enforce this policy – it violates its own terms and conditions.
However, according to Matt Ivester, CEO and founder of JuicyCampus.com, the site does not claim to self-police by screening material or removing posts.
“Nowhere is it stated that we will remove content from the Web site,” Ivester said. “We ask in our terms and conditions for users not to post defamatory material but in section six we state there is no screening of content. The idea we are not following our own terms and conditions is ridiculous.”
Additionally Ivester said the Web site is legally shielded by both the First Amendment and the 1996 Communications and Decency Act Section 230, which provides immunity from liability for providers of an interactive computer service who publish information provided by others.
“I am very confident we have not violated any laws,” Ivester said.
Still, Robin Unander, an Associated Students Legal Resource Center attorney, charged that JuicyCampus.com is deceiving users and may be subject to less stringent legal interpretations.
“JuicyCampus.com is misleading users,” Unander said. “On one hand they claim to protect people but they are talking out their mouth and ass because there is no way people can take down the posts. … Laws are meant to be broadly interpreted. New Jersey and Connecticut are applying [consumer protection] laws in a liberal sense and saying JuicyCampus.com is talking out both ends and they need to decide to protect users or not have a disclaimer on their site.”
UCSB Interfraternity Council President J.P. Primeau, said that in the absence of immediate legal alternatives, the greek community has decided to disregard the site.
“Everything on the site is bullshit rumors and hearsay so we found the best thing to do is act like the site does not exist,” Primeau said.
Meanwhile Ivester said JuicyCampus.com will continue to operate despite any pending investigations.
“We are continuing business as usual,” Ivester said. “We are confident we will not be bullied and we won’t let the attorney general violate the free speech rights of our users.”