In the annals of online discourse, “did you hear about [student]’s nose job?” isn’t among the best of what the Internet has to offer. It also isn’t the worst. An anonymous Web site that’s caught the attention — and provoked the ire — of students across the country has already unleashed comments like that one, and much worse, in carefree, unregulated and sometimes vicious discussion threads that have raised privacy concerns and condemnations on several campuses.
On JuicyCampus.com, anyone can post to campus-specific boards with the guarantee that their identities will be protected and their messages left uncensored.
Hard to believe that this will raise the level of campus discussion. A Williams student wrote me:
It would be much appreciated if you could post something on EphBlog that can get some helpful alums riled up to help have this site pulled down. The state of New Jersey is already filing litigation under the premise of consumer fraud. Get that nosy detective work up and running!
I didn’t check more than a couple of the posts. It seems like some students have said not very nice things about other students. But, others have seemingly replaced (how?) some of the negative material with random text. Big picture: Students sometimes said nasty things about each other 25 years ago. They sometimes say nasty things about each other today. It would be nice if that happened less often. Ideas for accomplishing that are welcome.
At Amherst, where that was a problem earlier this semester, the college’s attorneys are planning to contact the Massachusetts attorney general to discuss possible legal avenues in light of New Jersey’s actions against JuicyCampus, said Ben Lieber, the dean of students. He said the college was interested in whether the attorney general would “take action either in conjunction … or independent” of the New Jersey investigation, under that state’s Consumer Fraud Act.
Lieber has also written to the site’s founder and to students, asking them to ignore the site, to no discernible effect. “We’re a population of about 1,600 students,” he said. “Virtually all our students live on campus. Of the students who live on campus, virtually all of them eat in the same dining hall three times a day if they don’t skip breakfast…. People see each other all the time, people are very, very visible to each other. It’s bad enough to have this kind of thing happen at a big university where the degree of anonymity that people have is much greater, but to have it in a place where there’s less anonymity is I think even more problematic.”
True. And if Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley ’75 feels like getting her name in the paper, she might make some noise on the topic. But the First Amendment says what it says. We all need to learn to live in this brave new world. The Williams student mentioned that there has been a “pretty concerted effort to drown the Williams section with noise.” Sounds like the correct approach. Extra points for the reader who knows which recent science fiction book predicted that noise-drowning would become a widespread technique for protecting privacy.