“There does seem to be a tendency sometimes to view something that appears online as more controversial than something that is said in person,” said Menachem Wecker, co-founder of the Association for Social Media & Higher Education. “Of course there’s a finality to some online comments that spoken words don’t necessarily have, but just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s influential.”

Wecker continue: “When one weighs the desire to keep online forums safe and welcoming with the importance of having authentic forums where people aren’t artificially silenced, one has a difficult task indeed.”

Since JuicyCampus first appeared in 2007, student groups protested personal attacks posted throughout the site, college administrators have sought to ban the site from campus networks, and attorneys general from New Jersey and Connecticut have questioned whether the site was complying with state laws that prohibit “libelous, defamatory, and abusive postings.”

Tennessee State University cut off access to the JuicyCampus site in November 2008, prompting protest from First Amendment attorneys and the site’s spokesman.

Wecker urged against a concerted crackdown on all college gossip websites. Campus rumors, he said, have a way of fizzling out without official campus policy designed to snuff out controversial online forums that crop up every semester.

“It’s not surprising that thoughts expressed on Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms are often less than impeccable, grammatically sound, and insightful,” he said. “There may be merit to the argument that college is a good time for people to develop thick skins, and–within reason, and within the bounds of the law–many rumors should be permitted to die out on their own, rather than with administrative assistance.”

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