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Gossipy college confession boards: how to break the addiction

Whether we log on to such gossip forums out of love, hate, entertainment, or pure fear, we implicitly sanction and perpetuate such discourse just by giving those kinds of sites the time of day.

By Carolyn Witte / May 14, 2010

Ithaca, N.Y.

Gossip is nothing new. And using gossip to ruin reputations, sabotage friendships, break up couples, and destroy careers isn’t new either. Yet the degree to which gossip has come to dominate our lives, subsuming the role legitimate news used to play, is cause for concern.

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Technological advancements and the advent of social media have given rise to citizen journalism. Anyone with a cellphone or a camera can now assume the role of journalist – anyplace, anytime, anywhere in the world – bypassing all traditional journalistic rules of conduct. There is no more journalistic authority, no means of ensuring authenticity, and absolutely no ethics police of any shape or form.

This democratization of journalism – though maximizing freedom of the press in many regards – also threatens the legitimacy of the media as a whole and can have detrimental consequences for those individuals reported in supposed “news” stories. What to report and what not to report is left up to personal judgment calls and individual moral compasses at best.

In this Techno Age, what distinguishes The New York Times from the College Anonymous Confession Board (ACB)? While such a comparison may seem preposterous to many, the line between news, blogs, and anonymous online confession boards is becoming increasingly hazy.

A backstabbing remark said in private company can quickly transform from an unsolicited insult to a college confession board post to an Ivy Gate “news” story to the top hit on the Huffington Post. If journalism serves to uncover the truth, not perpetuate false accusations and embellished rumor mills, why and how, then, is this happening? Because we students are allowing it to happen.

College ACB is a spinoff of the former Juicy Campus, which was shut down in February 2009. Even though Matt Ivester, founder and CEO of Juicy Campus, struck a deal with Peter Frank, owner of College ACB, to redirect traffic from the Juicy Campus website to College ACB, Mr. Frank has sought to publicly distinguish itself from the notoriously vulgar Juicy Campus. In a press release, Frank referred to Juicy Campus as “a Website that fostered superficial interactions, often derogatory and needlessly crude.” In contrast, Frank considers College ACB to be “a higher level of discourse” dedicated to “actual discussion, not provoking salacious posts or personal attacks.”

Recent posts on Cornell’s College ACB board include “Best [body part] – who’s got it?” and “Which Freshman girls are blackballed from houses.” With dozens, sometimes hundreds of comments under each post, the quality, thought-provoking discussion one associates with an Ivy League university (and apparently a college confession board) is certainly questionable.