N.J. investigates gossip website

Prosecutors file to get records
March 19, 2008 10:13:49 AM PDT
New Jersey prosecutors have subpoenaed records of JuicyCampus.com, a Web site that publishes anonymous, often malicious gossip about college students.

Attorney General Anne Milgram said Tuesday that she believes New Jersey is the first state to investigate the site. JuicyCampus may be in violation of the state's Consumer Fraud Act by suggesting that it doesn't allow offensive material, but providing no enforcement and no way for users to report or dispute the material, she said.

Milgram said her office began its investigation last month when a student came forward who had been terrorized by posts on the Web site, which included her name and address. Prosecutors have subpoenaed information on how JuicyCampus is run, citing concerns about "unconscionable commercial practices."

"There's an unbelievable amount of offensive material posted and absolutely no enforcement," said Milgram, noting insults about students' appearance, race and sexual history as "just the tip of the iceberg."

Through its public relations firm, JuicyCampus said it would not have any immediate comment on the state's action.

The attorney general has also subpoenaed the Web site's advertising agency, Adbrite, to determine how JuicyCampus represented its operation and what advertising keywords the site requested.

Milgram said Adbrite has since offered full cooperation with the investigation and canceled its contract with the site.

The site launched last fall on seven college campuses and recently expanded to 50 more, including Princeton University. Free to use and supported by advertising, JuicyCampus promises posters total anonymity. Many of the postings indicate they've been viewed thousands of times.

Language on the site ranges from catty to hateful and offensive. One thread, for example, on the "most overrated Princeton student" quickly dissolves into name-calling, homophobia and anti-Semitism.

Students at many schools have responded with outrage and disgust at seeing peers smeared. The student government at Pepperdine University in California voted overwhelmingly to request a ban on the site, although the university has a policy against censoring Web sites.

JuicyCampus founder Matt Ivester has expressed little concern in the past about backlash from colleges.

"Like anything that is even remotely controversial, there are always people who demand censorship," he told The Associated Press last month. "However, we believe that JuicyCampus can have a really positive impact on college campuses, as a place for both entertainment and free expression."

The site seems designed to shield its users from the threat of libel claims.

"It is not possible for anyone to use this website to find out who you are or where you are located," assures a JuicyCampus privacy page. "We do not track any information that can be used by us to identify you. "

Mainstream social networking sites, on the other hand, maintain detailed logs of users' numeric Internet protocol addresses and their posting history.

AP-NY-03-18-08 2255EDT