JuicyCampus Shuts Down, Blaming the Economy, Not the Controversy

February 05, 2009

Complaints from angry students across the country, threats of lawsuits, bans by some campus administrators, and investigations by the attorneys general in two states failed to stop a gossip Web site called JuicyCampus, but the economic downturn apparently ended its controversial run. On Wednesday the founder of JuicyCampus, Matt Ivester, announced that he would shutter the site as of today because of a lack of revenue.

For a year and a half, the gossip site wreaked social havoc on many campuses, according to some students who say they were libeled or threatened in comments posted anonymously to the forum—which openly encouraged salacious writings. (Its motto was "Keep it juicy.")

The most popular topics on the site on Wednesday included the kinds of things that had become typical—"Biggest slut in each sorority???," "Is Lawson a virgin?," "Gayest Frat Boys?"—with each discussion thread listing students on specific campuses who the authors said fit the labels.

But as word spread of the site's demise, hundreds of people began posting messages like "JuicyCampus Shutting Down—Goodbye and Good Riddance!!!!" and "Bye bye JuicyCampus—thank God."

The anonymous users went after Mr. Ivester in their final postings to the site, which had grown to include sections for some 500 campuses: "He ruined many lives and relationships in the past year and a half," wrote one user in the Princeton University section of JuicyCampus. "What goes around comes around."

The company running JuicyCampus issued a news release explaining that "online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved," adding that it could not "muster the resources needed to survive this economic downturn."

In an e-mail interview, Mr. Ivester said that legal threats against the site had nothing to do with his decision. "Absolutely not," said Mr. Ivester. "We were able to successfully navigate all legal challenges, and JuicyCampus remains confident that all of our services and policies are well within the law."

Few, if any, Web sites have ever drawn the kind of widespread ire that JuicyCampus has. The student governments at several colleges, including Pepperdine University, passed resolutions calling on their institutions to ban the site. At least one private college, Hampton University, and one public institution, Tennessee State University, actually did block campus access to it. The offices of the attorneys general in Connecticut and New Jersey began investigations into whether the site violated consumer-fraud laws by not following its own published guidelines for removing posts in response to user complaints.

On Wednesday, New Jersey's attorney general, Anne Milgram, issued a statement saying that despite some recent improvements on the site, " retained many of its most problematic features," including "the failure to assure those who reported abuse that their complaints would be responded to and acted upon."

Mr. Ivester fired back on Wednesday that "neither attorney general brought charges against the site." And he said that he had planned to sue Tennessee State University for what he considers a violation of free-speech rights. "We remain appalled by TSU's censorship of their students and confident that we would have had a very good case against the school if it had gone to court."

The gossip Web site began at Duke University, from which Mr. Ivester recently graduated, and it led many students and their parents to complain to administrators that the university should do something to get the site to remove malicious and untrue postings—even though there was no connection between the site and the university. Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, asked a staff member who knew Mr. Ivester to call the gossip site's founder to politely ask him to tone it down. That had no effect.

Mr. Moneta advised colleagues to just wait out the site—that it would fade away when the novelty wore off.

"This is one of the rare occasions in which I got it right," Mr. Moneta said on Wednesday. "It ran its course, in some respects longer than I expected. Rest in peace."

Austin Maness, who was vice president of the student government at Pepperdine University last year when it voted to ban the site, said that he is happy to hear JuicyCampus is shutting down.

"The beauty of this is that in a free country based on a capitalist system, people don't like buying trash," he said.

He said that people had posted anonymously about him on the site, including "some malicious stuff about how I liked to sleep with guys or overweight people," he said. "It was just gossip" and untrue, he said. "It wasn't as bad as a lot of things that happened to girls on the Web site," he added. And he said the site was full of racist and hateful comments as well

Norman "Snapper" Underwood, who knew Mr. Ivester when they were both students at Duke and who now works as a special assistant to the dean at his alma mater, said that he learned of the closing of the site by reading a status update on Mr. Ivester's Facebook profile that said, "I'm taking it down."

Mr. Underwood said he initially hoped that Mr. Ivester had done so because he had a change of heart about the site. "I was hoping for a moral epiphany that this was wrong," he said, "but alas, capitalism did what dignity didn't."

Timothy M. Chester, chief information officer at Pepperdine, said that the one positive aspect of JuicyCampus's run was that it forced college administrators to consider questions of privacy and technology that they hadn't grappled with before. Those remain, he said, especially because new gossip sites are bound to pop up.