Juicy No More

You know the economy's bad when even college rumor-mongering isn't making a profit any more.  That's right, JuicyCampus.com, the website dedicated to anonymously posted collegiate gossip, has closed up shop.  In a post announcing the shutdown, Matt Ivester, the founder and CEO, put the blame on "these historically difficult economic times," in which "online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved."

Despite Ivester's hope that Juicy Campus would be remembered as "a place for the fun, lighthearted gossip of college life," it seems unlikely that such will be the case.  The Associated Press recounts some of the highlights of the website's forums:

Fraternities and sororities cruelly attacked each other. Typical discussion threads included "Biggest slut on campus" and "easiest freshmen." Others identified women who had gained weight and one post named a rape victim and said she "deserved it."

Several student government associations asked their colleges to block access to the site from campus networks, and a handful — including Tennessee State and Hampton — did so. New Jersey prosecutors, meanwhile, were investigating whether the company was violating the state's Consumer Fraud Act. No charges were filed.

An FAQ posted by the Juicy Campus folks states that the New Jersey investigation - one of two state investigations, according to the LA Times -  was "[n]ot at all" involved in the decision to shutdown the website.  Of course, Ivester cites a lack of venture capital as part of the cause of the closure -- as a practical matter it's hard to believe that venture capitalists weren't worried about potential prosecutions and civil lawsuits.

Speaking of lawsuits, there's one (and only one) downer to Juicy Campus' shutdown, as far as I'm concerned.  The AP alludes to the fact that Juicy Campus may have been protected by section 230 of the Communication Decency Act ("Section 230"), which immunizes websites from liability for content submitted by their users.  Therein lies the disappointment: a lawsuit against Juicy Campus could have served as a very interesting test case for the limits of Section 230 immunity. 

A plaintiff could have claimed that Juicy Campus deliberately encouraged defamation on its forums, not just the "lighthearted gossip" that Ivester references.  Under a broad reading of an important Ninth Circuit opinion, Fair  Housing Council v. Roommates.com, LLC, 521 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc), such encouragement could make Juicy Campus a co-developer of defamatory content for purposes of Section 230.  If a court viewed Juicy Campus as a co-developer, the website would get no protection from section 230; rather, it would be treated as a speaker of the tortious content, and thus potentially liable. 

Would such an argument have worked?  I doubt it, but it might have had some traction.  At the very least, it would have been interesting to see how a court would have responded. As it stands now, we'll have to wait for the next Juicy Campus to come along before we'll really know.  Hopefully we'll be waiting for quite some time.

(Arthur Bright is a second-year law student at the Boston University School of Law and a former CMLP Legal Intern. Before attending law school, Arthur was the online news editor at the Christian Science Monitor.)

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