As the college gossip Web site Juicy Campus continues to stir up controversy, university administrators find they can only do so much to curb negative posts and press. While some campuses expect the site to fizzle on its own, others are taking the lead to put an end to the online whispering.
The Web site allows anyone to post anonymous gossip about a person or organization at one of the 60-plus schools currently listed, without any vetting for veracity. Some student groups are petitioning their schools to ban the Web site, which they could only accomplish by blocking it on any computer that accesses the university's network.
Postings on the site - and subsequent media coverage - have begun to call attention to the problems Juicy Campus could cause.
At Tulane University, the student newspaper, The Hullabaloo, ran a story on how Juicy Campus allegedly outed campus marijuana dealers by revealing their identities, which led to drug busts. This incident prompted broader media coverage about the Web site.
Mike Strecker, director of PR at Tulane, says via e-mail that the school did not wish to engage in conversation regarding the site for fear that would give it further publicity.
Juicy Campus could not be reached for comment by press time.
Pepperdine University is one of many schools that chose not to ban the site, despite a student government petition.
"It's not something an institution of higher learning ought to do," says Jerry Derloshon, director of PR and news at Pepperdine. "Any experience, whether a Web site or foul language on a wall, can have this content... the almost... radical nature of it would burn [it] out."
Instead, Pepperdine applauded the student government for its effort and sent letters to the originators of the gossip, calling for them "to cease such virtual behavior."
Students elsewhere are getting involved. The student government at Vanderbilt University led a three-day initiative to "put a positive spin and control on the negativity spread by Juicy Campus," according to Joseph Williams, president of the group.
It opened with a student-led town hall meeting, where students divided into small groups to discuss potential solutions stemming from hateful posts.
Williams called the issue at hand much bigger than simply taking down Juicy Campus.
"It has to be a continual dialogue and process of speaking out against Juicy Campus and anything like it," he says.
When the site first became an issue earlier this year, the student government worked with the administration to embrace students who had allegedly been attacked on the site and weigh options to prevent "anonymous cyber trash talk," Williams says.
Administrators at the University of California-Berkeley, expect the site might do itself in.
"You have a lot of initial shock appeal, but subsequently, the vast majority find the site very offensive and [lacking] content," says Sheldon Waggener, associate vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer at Berkeley. He suggested that Juicy Campus will prove unappealing and fade.
Yet, in an age where anonymous blogging and social networks gain popularity, Berkeley is taking a more defensive approach, providing its students with additional communications training about their responsibilities as "net" citizens, he adds.
"It's [about] evolving and adopting standards to new technology," Waggener says.
Duke, the alma mater of founder Matt Ivester, might serve as the best case study in successfully letting the site fade away. The school went through a brief period of clamor last fall that necessitated institutional involvement, explained Larry Moneta, Duke VP of student affairs.
Moneta decided the university would succeed best by comforting and reassuring offended students that any effort to overtly attack Juicy Campus would empower its owner and contributors. After a brief commotion, it died down, Moneta says.
"I don't expect it to have a broad effect," Moneta adds. "It's a world where someone with half a brain, a computer, and an Internet connection can be a publisher; I think that thoughtful brains will prevail."