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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students discuss anonymous free speech on gossip site

Published: December 5, 2008
Section: News

On Tuesday, students discussed anonymous free speech during the first meeting of Students Against JuicyCampus.

A website founded last year, the mission of JuicyCampus is to “enabl[e] online anonymous free speech on college campuses…[and create] a forum where college students discuss what interests them most, and in the manner that they deem most appropriate.”

About eight members of Students Against JuicyCampus, which has a facebook group with 400 members, met in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium for an informal meeting to decide on what actions to take against the website.

The majority of the meeting was spent discussing the negative and positive effects of anonymous free speech. Erica Lubitz ’12 stated, “the purpose of anonymity is to make [people] comfortable to speak, but then it is used as a weapon.”

Damien Lehfeldt ’09, the creator of the group, stated that his main problem with the website is that hurtful statements are posted anonymously. “[The anonymity] leaves people feeling helpless because they can’t argue against the posters,” Lehfeldt said.

Lehfeldt suggested that the forums would be improved if posters had to sign their names, which was met with approval from other members of the group. Later on during the meeting, Omoefe Obgeide ’12 said, in regards to reducing the anonymity of the site, “at least that way we can engage in dialogues instead of just sitting and getting attacked.”

Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer explained in an e-mail that many Brandeis students have been detrimentally impacted by the website. On the issue of the anonymous posters he wrote, “[they] are negatively impacted through the practice of anonymously posting disrespectful and hurtful things about other students…I worry about their motivation and the lack of self confidence and values exhibited”

A lot of the discussion focused on how JuicyCampus is not parallel with Brandeis values. During the meeting, Lehfeldt said, “the site is against everything the university stands for, it’s not used for free speech, but to target students.”

Ogbeide commented that she was surprised by some of the forum’s racist content, “it’s so surreal to me that this is happening under Brandeis’ name.” Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of being posted about on the website, said, “I don’t trust people anymore.”

The group considered attempting to get the website banned from the campus, which means blocking the site from the university’s network, and discussed the tensions between freedom of speech and protecting students’ reputations.

Sawyer wrote in an e-mail about his own views on blocking the website. “[It] would be an act of principle, and we are certainly willing to act with that motivation. But such an act would not actually keep students or anyone from accessing the site via other means. And once done, what will be the next site brought forward for us to consider because of offensive material?”