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First public college blocks gossip Web site

By The Associated Press
11.21.08

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee State University has blocked a racy gossip Web site from access on its campus computer network, becoming the first public university in the nation to do so.

University administrators banned JuicyCampus.com after a mother complained about a post that arranged for students to beat up her daughter, said Patrick Walker-Reese, student government president.

Web site founder Matt Ivester told the Associated Press in a phone interview yesterday that he would have removed the threat from the site if had he be been made aware of it.

In a February e-mail to AP, Ivester wrote his site "can have a really positive impact on college campuses, as a place for both entertainment and free expression."

The free, advertiser-supported site allows students from some 500 schools to anonymously write anything about their colleges, professors and classmates.

Ivester said he intended for JuicyCampus.com to allow college students to share stories about their "crazy road trips and quirky college professors" when he launched it in 2007. It quickly morphed into a gossip blog. He has removed spam, illegal hate speech and people's contact information, but not offensive posts. He encourages others to reply and set the record straight.

"We don't know what is libelous and are not in a position to arbitrate matters," Ivester said.

The site is receiving attention nationwide for its sometimes malicious posts and the people trying to stop them.

A University of Delaware student, identified only as Jane Doe, has filed a federal lawsuit against five unidentified people to find out who posted "vulgar, scurrilous and false" claims about her sexual history. New Jersey and Connecticut attorneys general have launched fraud investigations against the Web site.

TSU's Walker-Reese said he e-mailed JuicyCampus.com last week and asked that the college be removed from the site because it was becoming a "source of hostility." Site managers refused.

The following day, the mother's phone call brought the site to administrators' attention.

Michael Freeman, TSU vice president of student affairs, blocked the site Nov. 12 because students pay a technology fee "to support a network for education and research purposes, not for recreational use."

"It is a little frightening. What could be construed as harmless fun could quickly become serious," said Freeman, adding campus administrators must take Internet-based threats seriously after the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech where a student killed 32 others and himself.

A 21-year-old Loyola Marymount University student was charged in December with making criminal threats for allegedly posting a message on JuicyCampus.com saying a campus shooting was imminent.

Freeman wrote a letter to students in the Nov. 17 edition of TSU's student-run newspaper, The Meter, explaining why the ban was put in place.

Hampton University, Belmont College and Lipscomb University are among the handful of private and religious institutions that have banned the site. Pepperdine University's student government voted to ask college administrators for a ban, but they declined.

Still, other campus officials believe their decisions to block the site do not infringe upon anyone's First Amendment free-speech rights because students can still access the site from off-campus Internet servers and will not be penalized.

"If an individual is on our campus and using our technology and our equipment then they have to abide by our rules," said Teresa Walker, assistant provost for technology at Hampton University. "But when they are at home or using the computer somewhere else they can do what they want to do."

Other schools have hosted forums on how to handle the Web site's content and to teach students what is an inappropriate post.

JuicyCampus.com founder Ivester said TSU's Freeman should have followed those examples.

"He is covering up the fact that there are these issues on his campus," Ivester said. "Why are these students compelled to act violently? Taking away the forum only hides the problem."

Walker-Reese disagreed and said the block was effective at killing the site's hype. Now, he says, the site has become a punchline for jokes.

"We say, 'You better stop before you end up on Juicy Campus.'"


Related

Web site provides 'juicy' campus details, prompts backlash (news)
Although students normally favor Internet openness, some fear damage to their reputations and have asked administrators to ban JuicyCampus. 02.20.08

N.J. attorney general targets college gossip Web site (news)
State prosecutors have subpoenaed information on how JuicyCampus.com is run, citing concerns about 'unconscionable commercial practices.' 03.19.08

Let’s support free speech even when others test its limits (commentary)
By Gene Policinski JuicyCampus.com, Westboro Baptist anti-gay protesters are prompting creative official attempts to silence their speech. 11.30.08

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