Matt Ivester wants to help.
As founder of the once infamous anonymous gossip site JuicyCampus.com, Ivester gained notoriety by selling poison to college students in the form of an online network ideal for sharing damaging and often defamatory hearsay about fellow classmates. Now he’s selling the antidote in the form of his book, “lol...OMG!: What Every Student Needs to Know about Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying.” But judging from the paltry attendance at his talk in Pickard Theater last night, Bowdoin students aren’t buying.
Ivester said he is trying to “do something positive with the JuicyCampus experience,” which he described as a kind of “lol...OMG” moment in his life. Four years ago, when JuicyCampus was at the height of its popularity at Bowdoin, Ivester would hardly have been welcome on campus, let alone invited to dispense advice to students. By the time the site shut down in February 2009, Bowdoin’s JuicyCampus page included topics ranging from “If You Could Hook Up With Anyone on Campus, Who Would It Be?” to “Interesting Hookup Places”, and “Cutest Couple”—that is, not ranging at all, according to a BCuria article from that year. Most discussions revolved around sex in all the worst ways. Occasionally, threads would just have someone’s name as a subject title, inviting unnamed visitors to criticize the subject at will.
Though Ivester is now working to help students manage their online identities by advising them to cross-link their social media profiles and double-check their privacy settings, it’s obvious that he still takes a certain pride in his infamous creation.
“It was even an answer on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire,’” he told the audience in Pickard last night, after playing a clip from Good Morning America in which Katie Couric calls JuicyCampus “a malicious cesspool of barbs, disses, and insults.”
To get his cautionary message across, Ivester played an excerpt from Katy Perry’s hit “Last Friday Night”—the part that goes, “Pictures of last night / Ended up online / I’m screwed, / Oh well.”
“You are not Katy Perry,” Ivester said. If pictures of last night ended up online, “actually, you are screwed.”
For being reputed to besmirch your reputation forever, online gossip forums sure don’t seem to last long. At Bowdoin, they disappear into legend like the rumors they propagate. JuicyCampus was the rag du jour around 2008; when it shut down a year later it began redirecting all visitors to CollegeACB.com. Upperclassmen may remember the “College Anonymous Confession Board” for the controversy it generated on campus and the calls for its removal—thankfully, the URL now redirects to an online gaming site.
Like JuicyCampus, CollegeACB claimed to be “devoted to promoting actual discussion, not provoking salacious posts or personal attacks." In fact, both sites attracted little more than the the latter.
But neither JuicyCampus nor CollegeACB was the first to utilize the internet for less than well-meaning projects—let’s not forget how Facebook got its start almost ten years ago. Even before then, back in 2004, a site called BowdoinMatch—a primitive questionnaire-based dating site—took the College by storm. When Facebook arrived on the scene, it was hailed as a competitor, and I’d like to think that one of the reasons it has gained more traction than other sites is because of its repudiation of online anonymity. Facebook is practically unavoidable these days—take it from someone who has deactivated her account many times, only to reactivate minutes later—and forcefully encourages users to make their real identities cohere around virtual avatars.
The latest anonymous forum to debut on campus, Off-therecord.com, had the well-intentioned goal of promoting discussion of contentious topics at Bowdoin. The site was an ambitious if shortlived project, and likely not the last of its kind that the College will see.
In anonymous forums, speakers are able to remain cloaked in the shadows while casting a harsh light on the subjects of their gossip. This sort of hypocrisy, as Gawker founder Nick Denton has said, “is the only modern sin,” a new temptation of our technological age. Gossip has always existed, but until recently, a human being had to tell you about it; you couldn’t just harvest it for free. And you had to stick your neck out. Anonymous online posters don’t have any skin in the game.
-with Toph Tucker