It#039;s (still) an insult

by Beacon Staff • February 11, 2009

Thursday, Feb. 5 was a fateful day: JuicyCampus bit the dust. Founder and CEO Matt Ivester explained in his blog that there simply isn't enough revenue to maintain the site. All that banter about privacy and freedom of speech has been resolved by mundane cash flow issues-an anti-climactic win for groups like "Students Against JuicyCampus" that permeated Facebook. And all seemed lost, too, for purveyors of college rumor and the tasteless critics of our classmates. Where, now, would they rant? Whom would they embarrass? Even so, I can't deny feeling contentment over the site's closure, and over the loss of catty exchanges. Perhaps people will stop hiding behind the Internet and grow up. But wait: it's already been replaced.

Another college gossip source sprang up the very same day; the Juicy URL now even transfers to it directly. The new College Anonymous Confession Board (collegeacb.com) claims to succeed where Juicy failed by being "devoted to promoting actual discussion, not provoking salacious posts or personal attacks," according to their Feb. 5 press release. And that's why this ambitious new site is going to fail.

The allure of JuicyCampus was its complete anonymity-or at least, the image of it. Despite the ability to trace IP addresses, and therefore, the computer from which posters did the deed, Juicers got a high from messing with people-with no apparent consequences. No one had to own up to their comments. No responsibility required. You could decry Emerson's pretentiousness or reveal the sexual acts of your roommate under the cover of Internet privacy and free speech. This new "confession board," while operating under the same premise, requires logging in with a valid college e-mail address. Once you register, you must log in to post, even though the actual posts have no identity attached to them. As ACB gets started, it's allowing people to post without registering, but soon that will phase out. Everyone will need a log-in. And that's not even the half of it.

There are new features unveiling as ACB aims to thrive in its competitor's wake. One such is the "Crush List." Basically, this allows users to contact, via private messaging, anyone else on the board. The catch? Doing so reveals your identity and completely negates that whole anonymity thing. It's true this can be moderated-you can have your name given if the person receiving the message agrees to reveal theirs-but it won't be long until this cover is blown. Sooner or later, a disagreement between two people could become hyper-heated outside of the forum-which not only seems counter-intuitive, but potentially dangerous.

And then there's freedom of speech. At the least, JuicyCampus was an impetus for discussion. As racial, derogatory and libelous remarks were posted, they put into question how far this freedom should go. ACB, however, is self-moderated, meaning any registered user can flag a post as offensive and have site administrators take it down. So the roommate I wanted to rant about? Well, she just removed that post. And the pretentious Emersonians? Well, they took down their post as well. All it takes is a few zealots who get offended by everything (which puts into question why they'd visit ACB in the first place) and no more posts are left. Even though, as the founder Peter Frank claims, you can make an appeal for a banned post to reappear, this system of checks is overbalanced toward deletion.

But the main reason CollegeACB will, as one anonymous poster puts it, "fizzle and die faster than [a] flaming kitten thrown in ice water," is because unlike Juicy, it's asking users to take responsibility for what they say. Frank is aiming for a "higher level of discourse" where your e-mail can be traced, your account can be contacted by other users and your hate-speech can be deleted by others-the opposite of JuicyCampus' uniquely popular attributes. If only people had the guts to claim ownership to insults, the world would be too mature for all this.

So while the new Juicy might endear others with its attempt at civility (though it is still gossip-oriented), it's a guaranteed failure. Because for the type of people who post on such sites-those with nothing better to do than defame others-responsibility is the last thing they want with their gossip.

iElizabeth Pashley is a sophomore writing, literature and publishing major and assistant opinion editor of /iThe Beacon.