Using JuicyCampus as 'a Weapon Against Itself'

October 21, 2008

Typically, students curious to read the latest gossip and hearsay written by their classmates have only to stop by JuicyCampus, an anonymous message board that has gained notoriety over the past year for refusing to block potentially libelous and damaging posts that in many cases name names.

On the George Washington University page, for example, anyone can peruse a thread titled "cheating girlfriends/boyfriends," which under normal circumstances would feature an array of obscene messages, names of students and vulgar pile-ons. One of the first posts, however, doesn't immediately call to mind the faithfulness of known couples on campus:

"Latin is an Italic language, historically spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. Through the Roman conquest, Latin spread throughout the Mediterranean and a large part of Europe...."

Scrolling a bit further reveals even more unrelated nuggets.

"The shape of Egyptian pyramids is thought to represent the primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the earth was created. The shape is also thought to be representative of the descending rays of the sun, and most pyramids were faced with polished, highly reflective white limestone, in order to give them a brilliant appearance when viewed from a distance...."

These curious posts, and many others like them, are part of a haphazard, grass-roots campaign of students trying to subvert the site from within. The site has inspired attempts at some campuses to block it entirely, at least one lawsuit, and a flurry of protests from students and administrators alike. But opposition has always collided with a fact of life: Enough college students are willing to feed JuicyCampus that it will always have an audience.

Instead, a group of bloggers at George Washington and elsewhere have found that they can use the unregulated nature of the site against it -- burying the nasty stuff with irrelevant Wikipedia entries, nonsense poetry and dada potpourri.

Max McGowen, a GW student who blogged about JuicyCampus this month, publicly criticized the site when he and some of his friends were called out by name in several posts. His blog entry on the subject, titled "The Chains of Identity Released, the Plastics of GW Attack," called for a boycott and attacked the student culture at GW as part of the problem.

"As one of my friends astutely observed, reading GW’s page is like reading the script of Mean Girls. Except that instead of North Shore High School, now it's Foggy Bottom. What JuicyCampus has effectively done for GW students is enable them to express their true selves -- their true, exceptionally soulless selves," he wrote. The site's GW-focused section launched several weeks ago.

But other bloggers piled on, arguing that a boycott would be ineffective. "For the health of the student community, we can't ignore this forum. We need to turn GW's JuicyCampus into a joke. Then, maybe, other students will realize the absurdity of it all, and play along," wrote The GW Patriot, which encouraged students to "flood the forum as if we aren't a tiny minority of its posters," invoking the presidential campaign of Ron Paul.

"If we can keep this up for long enough, people will find the site unreliable and unusable," said a post on the blog The Colonialist. "The hidden ugly content will be flooded with poetic responses and Wikipedia entries. No one will need to use the site anymore. No one will develop the habit of reading it every day. Juicy Campus will cease to be relevant."

JuicyCampus's founder, Matt Ivester, has publicly defended the site on free speech grounds and stated that the discussions it fosters happen on college campuses anyway. By that logic, according to its critics, the same goes for the assortment of e.e. cummings verses and Scripture that now finds its way into the site's message board threads.

"Who is to say that I don't think a Wikipedia article about Border Collies qualifies as 'Juice'? Maybe a biography of Chelsea Clinton is the hot gossip on campus. These posts have just as much worth, if not more, as anything else on JC," The Colonialist's founder, Travis Helwig, said in an e-mail.

"I think using the site as a weapon against itself is the only way to really stop it. People go there to see names they recognize, and if they don't find names they recognize, the site serves no purpose. The explicit goal is to not to destroy their business, but to rally behind the idea that there are more people on our campus against this website than for it. The site only works if the students on a campus feed the site content. The students are the only ones who can stop the site from taking over. Socially, Juicy Campus is mutually assured destruction, and most people can see that."

So far, at least, the approach seems to be working, although some have noted that the rate of postings (of both the "Juicy" and G-rated variety) has dropped to coincide with midterms. Bloggers at Georgetown responded that they were employing similar tactics, writing posts about nonexistent students. "I understand what they're doing, it's clearly a successful tactic ... the only reason why I didn't do that personally was that I didn't want to drive any traffic to the site at all," said McGowen, who called for the boycott, in an interview.

Students at other colleges, like Williams College and Cornell University, are using their own innovations, such as automating computers to post the full text of the Bible or entire novels.

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