Sunday, May 18, 2008
blogging's evil twin
I thought I would share my musings on an epidemic that has recently snuck its way onto the homepage of many a college student’s Firefox Mozilla: Juicycampus.com. This site takes blogging and turns it into the mean girl that snickered at your haircut in middle school: it hosts hundreds of college campus’ homepages on which students may anonymously post gossip, rumors, and other not-so-legitimate forms of information about their peers.
Other students have the chance to respond to the statements and rate them on their “juiciness.” This would be all be just dandy if students stuck to valid topics of virtual conversation à la “What did you think of Professor X in class Z?” or “Can someone tell me how to get involved in club Q?” However, the actual posts look a little more like this: “Which girls have gained the most weight since freshman year?” and “Doesn’t X look like she got hit in the face with a shovel?”
As admittedly intriguing and, well, juicy as the website can be, there’s a serious question at hand regarding the definition of online publishing. Though some posts are truthful, at least half of the stuff on JuicyCampus is certainly fabricated information about people. While written defamation of character, libel, is illegal when it comes to magazines and newspapers, can this be said of online publications? Where are the boundaries of “legitimate” virtual publication: can you be sued for something you write on your Facebook profile?
JuicyCampus has issued terms and conditions that state that users may not post content that “is unlawful, threatening, abusive, defamatory, obscene, libelous, or invasive of another's privacy.”
The problem with this statement is that there is no guarantee that the thousands of students posting on the site will follow the rules, especially since the point of JuicyCampus is to gossip. It’s not as though these students are trying to gain literary prestige through their compelling posts regarding so-and-so’s sexual activities in the library; they are simply trying to evoke amused or horrified reactions out of their contemporaries. And because blog-like websites foster any and all text, it is difficult to patrol every single word that is posted online.
Freedom of speech and the limits of appropriateness have always butted heads, but the Internet gives these two tenets a new battleground on which to fight.