JuicyCampus, a public, anonymous message board that basically encourages college students to gossip about each other (often using full names and with malicious intentions), got its first ban from a public university. Apparently, Tennessee State University’s VP for Student Affairs, Michael Freeman has blocked access to the website, which spurred CEO & President of JuicyCampus Matt Ivester to write an open letter in response.
Get ready for some drama, with Ivester claiming TSU is “joining the ranks of the Chinese government in internet censorship, and spitting in the faces of everyone who believes in free discourse online”.
University administrators are probably acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their students. They’re just misguided, and missing the big picture. The most significant threats to free speech (in the U.S. at least) tend to come not from tyrants who openly question the value of the First Amendment, but from well-meaning busybodies who want to protect peoples’ feelings—a mission that is generally incompatible with free speech.
The idea of banning JuicyCampus.com has been considered, and flatly rejected, at the nation’s premier universities (including Yale, Duke, Princeton, Harvard, and many others). These universities decided that limiting free speech would be fundamentally incompatible with their educational missions, and that censorship was a slippery slope that they did not want to be on. Instead, administrators at many top universities seized the opportunity to educate their students. All over the country, discussions have taken place with regard to what is and is not appropriate to discuss in a public forum, and how students should react when they see something they disagree with online.
This approach stands in stark contrast with TSU’s decision, which was to censor the speech of its own students. In a truly Orwellian manner, the University chose to limit students’ abilities to read and write to an un-moderated message board online, because their speech was reflecting “negatively” on TSU. Freeman’s position would seem to be that his students cannot be trusted with their First Amendment rights, perhaps believing that they are too immature or irresponsible. Perhaps though, they are just under-educated on this issue. But, unlike his colleagues at top universities, Mr. Freeman has abdicated his responsibility for educating those students, and in doing so has disgraced both his University and his State.
Because TSU’s decision seems to violate its students’ First Amendment rights, there is some question as to how long their ban will remain in effect. Students and free speech advocacy groups are already discussing legal action.
JuicyCampus believes that the answer to bad speech is good speech, not censorship. To that end, JuicyCampus encourages students who disagree with certain comments to reply to those comments with additional information and/or their own opinions. Everyone has an equal voice on JuicyCampus.
JuicyCampus claims nearly 1 million unique visitors per month, but both Quantcast and Compete estimates suggest it’s more around 1/10 of that. The website recently expanded, opening support to over 500 new campuses.
We’d be surprised if TSU will remain the only institution to block access to the website, and we’re still doubtful if Ivester will be able to avoid being slapped with a lawsuit by upset students and/or their parents. He acknowledged to us earlier that JuicyCampus was under investigation by Attorneys General in New Jersey and Connecticut, but we remain unsure about the current status.