The Revenge of College Gossip Websites
posted by Daniel Solove
“This is the new JuicyCampus,” says a note at Campus Gossip, which boasts campus-specific message boards for hundreds of colleges and encourages anonymous and racy barbs such as “These Fellas got herpes,” with a list of names attached. Going even further than its predecessor, there’s also a photo section where students can post embarrassing pictures and videos of others.
The site is planning a back-to-school marketing push, including a happy hour near Arizona State University where a rap artist named Sabotage will perform a song about the pleasures of campus gossip.
Another site, CollegeACB (the letters stand for Anonymous Confession Board), paid the defunct JuicyCampus $10,000 to redirect visitors from its Web address to CollegeACB.
Internet shaming creates an indelible blemish on a person’s identity,” wrote Daniel J. Solove, a professor of law at George Washington University, in his 2007 book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (Yale University Press). “It’s similar to being forced to wear a digital scarlet letter or being branded or tattooed. People acquire permanent digital baggage. They are unable to escape their past, which is forever etched into Google’s memory.” . . . .
“I don’t see why it has to be that way,” the law professor told me in a recent interview. “Just like when you drive, it’s not a free-for-all,” he added, equating the current laws governing online forums to a road without traffic lights or stop signs. “It’s like if we looked at the roads and said, There’s just nothing to be done—let’s just abolish all rules of the road.” . . . .
Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, said she hoped that stamping out harassment on campus-gossip Web sites would be considered a matter of civil rights.
She makes the case in an article published in the Michigan Law Review this year called “Law’s Expressive Value in Combating Cyber Gender Harassment.” In it, she argues that law-enforcement officials fail to take seriously complaints about online anonymous comments, and that using “civil-rights remedies” may be the most effective way to pursue such acts.
“Women should not have to wait until cyberharassment fulminates into physical violence for law enforcement to address it,” she wrote. “A civil-rights agenda … would demonstrate that the Internet is not the lawless Wild West, just as court settlements and state legislation made clear that the home does not insulate abusing husbands from societal intervention.”