Gossip Gone Wild

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Gossip is as old as prostitution -- and about as popular in cyberspace -- but it's a long way from the blogging of Perez Hilton to anonymously cyberslamming your classmate as "the biggest slut on campus."

Now the controversial college gossip site Juicycampus.com is facing a raft of subpoenas from law enforcement officials in New Jersey who have been investigating the site for more than a month.

But they're not after the site for its often nasty content, at least not directly.

Instead, like the G-men who brought down mobster Al Capone with tax evasion charges, New Jersey prosecutors are using a creative interpretation of a very unscandalous statute to go after Juicycampus.com.

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They claim that in its terms of use, Juicycampus.com prohibits offensive or abusive material from being posted on the site, but it fails to enforce those restrictions. They claim the site is in violation of the state's Consumer Fraud Act.

Still, legal experts and advocates say the site's founder -- Matt Ivester, Duke University '05 -- may prove in the end to be more legally bullet-proof than old Capone.

'Everyone Hates It'

Almost since its creation in August, the site has drawn protests from students at campuses across the country as they increasingly recognize how indefensible anonymous gossip can be.

"Everyone I talk to absolutely hates it,'' said Caitlyn Murphey, a sophomore at Texas Christian University, who founded Facebook.com's largest anti-Juicycampus group, which currently has more than 500 members.

"The stuff written on there just about other people is just really awful stuff," she said. "They write about the biggest slut on campus, who's sleeping with who, certain sororities, specific people. ... It's pretty blunt, obscene comments."

Murphey said that beyond the humiliation of being targeted by name -- and oftentimes other identifying personal details such as phone numbers and dorm rooms -- there's a deep-seated concern among students that a mean mention on the site could affect a student's future.

"Employers hire people to look up stuff about people they hire,'' she said. "Regardless of it being a gossip site, there's no telling what could be true and that could really hurt your chances of getting a job."

Murphey said some of her closest friends have been written about.

"With [one male friend], he knows pretty much who wrote it," she said. "These people are jealous of him because of his academics. He wasn't really bothered ... but ... people have [written] about a certain friend of mine. They say she has slept with every guy in a certain fraternity and she hasn't."

One frustrated Cornell University junior found a filthy' post about his sexual exploits on the site recently.

"I thought, 'is this going to affect my job employment? Is this going to make people on campus look at me? Are people going to talk about me behind my back?'" he told The Associated Press recently.

He also said he wondered about his 11-year-old sister, who is spending more time on the Internet.

"What if she Googles me? What will she think about her big brother?" he said.

But other young people familiar with the site believe that media attention from credulous journalists has lent the site a far more menacing reputation than it deserves.

"I think a lot of the posts are pretty despicable, but I don't see the need for this kind of legal action,'' said Jacob Savage, 23, a recent graduate of Princeton University and editor in chief of Ivygateblog.com.

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