JuicyCampus.com Investigated For Fraud In New Jersey For Not Blocking Abusive, Obscene Content

Anonymous, often malicious student gossip site claims it's not responsible for user-generated content.

What if you came home from spring break, and before you got a chance to tell any of your friends about your exploits, you found them posted online — in all their X-rated glory? Texas Christian University student Jennifer Smith (not her real name) knows this story all too well, since a tale of her having sex in Cabo is one of the latest posts on JuicyCampus.com, a risqué social-networking site that is now under investigation in New Jersey for consumer fraud.

On the provocative site — launched in October 2007 — college students anonymously spread gossip about each other, vote on the sexiest teachers and classmates, and sometimes out each other, among other things. The official categories of discussion are Students, Faculty/Administration, Greek Organizations, Overheard on Campus, Sports/Athletes and the timely Spring Break. You can view the latest posts, most discussed topics, or as the name of the site suggests, skip right to the "juiciest" material. But despite the thousands of readers on over 60 campuses who enjoy the gossip the site offers, not everyone is a fan.

On Tuesday, New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs officials announced that they are investigating JuicyCampus for possibly violating the state's Consumer Fraud Act by misrepresenting itself, claiming not to allow abusive or obscene content, though it "lacks the tools to report or dispute the material." Adbrite, the company that places ads on the site, has also been subpoenaed in the investigation.

College students are also joining the fight. Pepperdine University's student government recently voted 23-5 to ban JuicyCampus, according to the school's paper, The Graphic. Student Government President Andy Canales also sent out a message to the entire student body saying that the Web site has the potential to destroy the campus community.

"There are always comments about the potential of suicide because of things that are said," he added. "People need to be very mindful about how their words can affect people."

Canales may not be far off: An anonymous female who was recently called "promiscuous," "ugly" and "racist" on the site told CNN she has lost weight and sleep, and has called her parents in the middle of the night crying over the comments. She said this experience has ruined her first year of school and that it will probably "taint her entire college experience."

Mollie, an 18-year-old with blue highlights, posted her outrage about JuicyCampus on YouTube. "That's just degrading, rude," Mollie said in a video she made after reading an item calling girls in a certain college sorority "whores" who like to do cocaine. "I'm personally not in a sorority, but just because somebody is doesn't mean that they fit, like, any stereotype. ... I don't think, like, anywhere in the Greek-life handbook does it say that being [a member of this sorority] means that you have to do cocaine."

JuicyCampus maintains that it is an entertainment site with entirely user-generated content. "The site allows users to sign their names to posts, or not, and encourages free speech for the discussion of topics that most interest college students," the company said in a statement.

JuicyCampus founder and Duke alum Matt Ivester also defended his creation on the site's offical blog. "There are hilarious posts about drunken antics, helpful posts about classes and professors, and thought-provoking posts about race, gender and sexuality," he wrote. He did admit, however, that some of the posts are mean-spirited and said that he has received e-mails from people complaining that they've been defamed.

But JuicyCampus doesn't take responsibility for what its members post, and claims to be protected as a service provider under Section 230 of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. And suing the comment posters for libel would be difficult. A student would have to prove who made the statements, that the statements made were false, that they were published to the site and that the student's reputation suffered because of them. JuicyCampus' privacy policy page promises that it does not track any information that could be used to identify its users and offers further advice on how to cloak a computer's IP address from servers.

In a February blog post, Ivester did ask "Juicy Campers" to consider whether their posts are entertaining or just downright nasty. "Remember that words can hurt, and the people you are talking about are real," he wrote. "We want you to make JuicyCampus juicy, not hateful."