February 6, 2009

C.U. Reacts to Juicy Campus Closure

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In Jan. 2008 JuicyCampus.com launched at Cornell, spreading rapidly across campus. Yesterday, however, the website’s reign came to a halt.
In a letter on the Juicy Campus blog, CEO and Founder Matt Ivester, cited the economic crisis as the reason for the website’s end.
The website — which harbored malicious gossip — asked students to rant about the hottest freshman, the biggest drug users, and best and worst Greek houses.
Ivester and the website have been the subject of much legal discussion and speculation over First Amendment issues since it went live in December 2007. Some students who had been victims of the gossip also tried to sue him.
One attempt to shut down the website came from the State of New Jersey last March used a creative angle, alleging that Juicy Campus viothat Juicy Campus violated consumer fraud laws.
Though Juicy Campus survived in the courts, it could not survive in this economy.
“In these historically difficult economic times,” Ivester wrote in the letter, “online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved. Juicy Campus’ exponential growth outpaced our ability to muster the resources needed to survive this economic downturn, and as a result, we are closing down the site.”
Ivester also commented on the issues that Juicy Campus raised about online privacy and internet censorship which were discussed at universities across the country as well as media outlets like ABC and Fox News.
“Juicy Campus has raised issues that have passionate advocates on both sides, and I hope that dialogue will continue,” he wrote.
Ivester also said that Juicy Campus fostered lighthearted gossip, rather than producing mean-spirited libel. Unfortunately, the pernicious gossip often overshadowed the lighthearted, he said.
For members of the Cornell community, the discontinuation of Juicy Campus was regarded as a positive ending to an ugly phenomenon.
Tracy Mitrano, director of information technology policy and computer policy in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technologies, strongly opposed the ideas behind Juicy Campus.
“I don’t care for any business that preys on the darker side of humanity,” Mitrano said. “I’m afraid that the way the site was set up — encouraging people to gossip, allowing for anonymous posting, making it very difficult for people who believed they were defamed to get information about the poster in order to address the matter in usual legal processes — all weighed more heavily on this darker side than I think is appropriate.”
Students were also pleased with Juicy Campus’s demise — particularly those who had previously been the targets of its rumor mill.
C.J. Slicklen ’09 found out about the shutdown yesterday morning through his fraternity’s list serve.
“[The e-mail said]: This is your last chance to submit to C.J.’s legacy, and they linked it to the article about Juicy Campus closing,” Slicklen said.
Slicklen, who was a staunch opponent of Juicy Campus and predicted the ultimate demise of the website in an interview with the Associated Press, was not surprised that the site closed, but rather how it closed.
“It’s kind of funny — of all the things we were trying to do [to shut the site down], ad revenue is the thing that closed it down. Juicy Campus is to blame,” Slicklen said.
On the other hand, Mitrano was not surprised that Juicy Campus could not generate the necessary funds to stay in business.
“There are so many positive examples of what people can do in this networking world that I’m not sure [Juicy Campus] offered much enduring value. For some people, for a few minutes, it may have seemed enticing, but I think that the thrill was gone very quickly and most people saw it for what it was,” Mitrano said. “As soon as their backers, who may have been lured into supporting it, saw what it became, they understandably withdrew their support.”
Both Slicklen and Mitrano agreed that Juicy Campus brought out the worst in the Cornell community.
“I think they wanted to exploit the negative side of things for their own commercial interest,” Mitrano said. “As a University administrator I’m interested in bringing out the best in our students.”