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- JUICYCAMPUS.COM CREATES QUESTIONS, AND HEADACHES
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Newsletter > January 2009 > "JUICYCAMPUS.COM CREATES QUESTIONS, AND HEADACHES"
JUICYCAMPUS.COM CREATES QUESTIONS, AND HEADACHES
Daniel McCarthy, Manley Burke
A relatively new website is generating increasing concerns on campuses across the country. Juicycampus.com, officially launched on October 24, 2007, states that its seemingly harmless “simple mission” is “enabling online anonymous free speech on college campuses. Today it is a forum where college students discuss the topics that interest them most, and in the manner that they deem most appropriate.”
However, not all students, administrators and Greek organizations find the site so harmless. In fact, some universities have blocked access to the site, while students and organizations are left wondering what can be done to stop juicycampus. A short stop by the site quickly shows why so many are concerned. Topics of discussion include the “worst frat on campus,” “ugliest girl on campus,” and the “biggest cocaine users.” These are in fact some of the milder topics.
The welcome page on the site says that, “Juicycampus is the world’s most authentic college website, with content generated by college students for college students. Just remember, keep it Juicy!” In short, the site provides anonymity for posters to discuss whatever is on their mind. It seems that rumors of sexual exploits, drug use, fraternity and sorority rankings and the like are on the mind of the vast majority of the site’s posters.
The site now claims to be on more than 500 campuses, with the goal of being on every campus in the country. Matt Ivester, a recent Duke graduate, who was the president of this fraternity chapter while at Duke, started the site. In an article by Bella English in the Boston Globe, Mr. Ivester defended the site, claiming that he loved gossiping with his fraternity brothers. “So why not have a place where you could share ridiculous, hilarious, entertaining high jinks of campus life?”
Because posters are not required to register to use the site, no personal information, such as name, address, phone number, or email address is collected. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to determine the identity of the posters. That said, what can be done about juicycampus and other similar sites that currently exist or are sure to follow in the future? Specifically, what remedies are available if a poster defames an individual or organization.
An initial thought is of course to sue Ivester, juicycampus and Lime Blue, Inc., the corporation that technically owns and runs the site. However, the chances of success may not be great. That is because Section 230(c) of the 1996 Communications Decency Act appears to provide protection from liability. Specifically, Section 230(c) states, in part: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another content provider.” Courts have traditionally viewed Section 230(c) as providing immunity to websites such as juicycampus. However, in a March, 2008 case, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago stated that Section 230 (c) “as a whole cannot be understood as a general prohibition of civil liability for website operators and other online content hosts.”1
While this case perhaps opens the door for liability, the greater weight of cases indicates that Section 230(c) does provide immunity to sites such as juicycampus.
Though the site may be immune, posters are not. A person who posts an outright lie about another is liable in a defamation suit. However, many obstacles exist. First is the anonymous nature of the site. Without names, email addresses or other poster information, it is very difficult to accurately pinpoint the true identity of posters. However, a person could issue a subpoena to juicycampus to learn the IP address of the poster. The website must comply with the subpoena. Once that information is obtained, the victim would then have to attempt to get the true identity of the poster from the poster’s service provider. The second obstacle is the uncomfortable and often uphill battle to win a defamation suit. Further, damages must also be proven. Any case against a poster is likely to take a considerable amount of time, money and emotion.
While the internet obviously offers many amazing benefits, it also comes with drawbacks. On the one hand, it opens many doors for communication, research and information; on the other hand, it also opens the door for gossipy sites such as juicycampus. Sites like juicycampus are a reality now. While it is important for chapters and members to be aware of these gossip sites, the best course of action is to ignore them. This is easier said than done, but with little legal recourse available, this is the best option.
1 Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law v. Craigslist, No. 07-1101 (7th Cir., March 14, 2008).