Last year, we told you about a new website aimed squarely at college students, where anonymous users were encouraged to post the juiciest gossip they could find on campus. Well, there’s been some new developments in the online gossip front that we wanted to share with you. According to ABC News, the original gossip website was started by a Duke University student named Matt Ivester. He says his mission with the site was to enable anonymous free speech online. However, what started out as fun and games for Ivester quickly turned ugly – as students posted everything from innocent tales of secret crushes, to racist tirades and shocking allegations about drug use and sexual behavior. With so many users posting first and last names in their potentially slanderous gossip, it raised the question of whether online rumor mills should even be legal.
Since last year, that first gossip site has spread to nearly 500 college campuses! It’s also inspired numerous copycat sites, and now there’s talk of branching out with a workplace gossip site – where people could post anonymous comments about their co-workers, or boss! To be fair, Ivester himself describes a lot of the content posted on his site to be “personally abhorrent.” In fact, he’s outlined three categories of posts he will never allow: That’s if someone posts self-promotional spam, hate speech directed toward a specific race, religion or lifestyle choice or if someone posts a person’s contact information – like a phone number or email address. Ivester adds he won’t ever start a gossip site aimed at high school students, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t!
Now, as for the legality of all this anonymous rumor mongering, not much has changed since last year. Websites like this are still protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which grants immunity to Web hosts like Ivester. In other words, they’re not liable for the slanderous posts of their users – as long as they don’t modify any of the content themselves. So as the law sees it, these websites are simply providing a forum for free speech. All we can recommend is that you avoid using these sites as much as possible.