SGA’s efforts to ban the Web site that prides itself in being “always anonymous and always juicy” has made national news. After a 23-5 vote in last month’s SGA meeting to ban juicycampus.com from the on-campus servers, President Andy Canales and Vice President of Administration Austin Maness were flown to New York by Fox News to appear on “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.”
“It was a very exciting and unique experience,” Canales said. “I am glad we were able to speak on behalf of so many people who were hurt by this Web site and want something to be done about it.”
After the student body took such a strong stance on the issue, curiosity was sparked and the Associated Press released an article last week that appeared in numerous publications in the country, and even reached the Times of London.
“The release of that [AP] article is really helping lead the discussion and creating opportunities for experts to get involved with the case,” Canales said.
But SGA’s 15 minutes of fame is not over yet. The appearance on Fox News has skyrocketed publicity of the issue. Since the airing, Canales has received calls from CNN and another Fox News show, “Geraldo at Large,” which he will appear on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Canales and Maness were guests on “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet” along with Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and executive director and founder of wiredsafety.org, the world’s largest and oldest cyber safety group. Aftab has been helping students and parents learn how to use the Internet safely for more than a decade and plans to work with the JuicyCampus case as much as possible.
“My biggest concern here is to make sure that the kids who are being targeted right now are not at risk,” Aftab said. “There have already been at least 12 suicides related to cyberbullying.”
Since hearing about JuicyCampus from Fox News, Aftab has not been able to access the site and complete the necessary research she needs to determine whether or not the site is actually violating any laws.
“I’m sure it’s down because they’ve had too many hits,” she said in an interview. “But once it’s up I will be reaching out to regulators in California and New York and determining if there’s anything that we can do about it.”
According to Aftab, the easiest way to determine if a site is in violation of the law is to see if it says one thing and does another. Ironically, she will be looking into JuicyCampus’ claim to be completely anonymous.
In December 2007, a student at Loyola Marymount University was arrested for posting threats on JuicyCampus, which, according to Aftab, may have violated consumer protection laws.
“If they can find death threats, then they can also find defamatory statements,” Aftab said. “Which means they can’t advertise as being completely anonymous.”
Aftab stresses that, as of now, she has not been able to look deep enough into the site to determine whether or not laws are actually being violated. However, she plans to follow up soon. If JuicyCampus is violating consumer fraud laws, she plans to take the matter up with attorney generals in California and New York as well as policymakers and regulators all over the nation.
Canales understands that students are concerned with the purpose of his actions, doubting that he will see any real results.
“It doesn’t hurt to try and confront this issue from as many angles as possible,” he replies. “We’re taking any opportunity to inspire people to reach out and express their concerns.”
If attorneys find that the Web site is guilty of consumer fraud, punishments could range anywhere from fines to a forced change of practice, according to Aftab.
Concerns arise, however, in the questioned ability of JuicyCampus to withstand a fight if hit with fines.
“We don’t want to hype up the article more than we have to,” Aftab said. “The more people that visit the site, the more money it makes from its advertisers.”
Should attorneys fail to find JuicyCampus in violation of any laws, Aftab and supporters do not plan to quit.
“My goal here is to empower Pepperdine and other college students to create a more responsible environment online,” she said. “This isn’t about college students whining about their rights; there’s too many students being killed due to online gossip and defamation.”
Another issue lies in the inability to decipher whether JuicyCampus is acting as simply a vehicle for defamation or if it is encouraging the actions that are negatively affecting so many students.
If it’s found that JuicyCampus is simply an outlet for students to express themselves, then they are completely protected by the Communication Decency Act (CDA). If, however, it is found that they are encouraging the defamation of others, then they will eventually deal with lawsuits, according to Aftab.
“The problem here is that when the CDA was passed these kinds of sites didn’t exist,” Canales said. “We just hope that we can get enough people to express their concerns.”
On a smaller scale, Aftab will have a table at the Cyber Safe California Summit 2008 early next month in Burbank, Calif. The event is presented by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Privacy Protection and State Consumer Services Agency and is a prime outlet to get the attention of policymakers in the state.
Aftab hopes to bring Canales and as many Pepperdine students as possible to the conference.
“Hopefully I’m going to be working with students at Pepperdine,” she said. “I have agreed to donate my time to help the student body, lend my expertise, and teach you how to take action against the sponsors of the site.”
With the conference falling during spring break, Canales is hoping to be able to accompany her.
“I’m trying my best to make it,” Canales said. “I’m very proud of the stance we’ve taken on the situation and hope to continue to represent the student body at the conference.”
In the meantime, Aftab’s organization, wiredsafety.org, will continue to “provide help, information, and education to Internet and mobile device users of all ages,” according to the site. It aims to “help victims of cyberabuse, cyberstalking and child safety.”
Until Aftab is able to do enough plausible research, Canales and supporters will continue to advocate for change while rumors and gossip fill the juiciest web site around.