Gossip Sites Push Web 'Anonymity' to Fore

By Columnist, Tom Regan | The Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

Gossip Sites Push Web 'Anonymity' to Fore


Columnist, Tom Regan, The Christian Science Monitor


It's the kind of stuff that makes you look twice - or not want to look at all. The postings on the website JuicyCampus.com leave little to the imagination. The posts include information on who slept with whom, unfiltered sentiments expressed about other people on the poster's campus, racist comments, lots of misogynist ramblings, and even an incredibly long piece about Alexander the Great. Yes, that Alexander.

But then again, the people making the posts are doing so anonymously. In fact, that's JuicyCampus's shtick - "C'mon. Give us the juice. Posts are totally, 100 percent anonymous."

(Maybe. Then again, maybe not. But more on that in a few paragraphs.)

Then there's RottenNeighbor.com. It's like JuicyCampus in that it allows anonymous posting - although the posts don't seem quite as puerile. RottenNeighbor bills itself as "the first real estate search engine of its kind, helping you find troublesome neighbors before you sign the paperwork on your new house, condo, or apartment."

The site allows people to post their names if they want to (as if) and encourages them to present "evidence" of the malfeasance of their "rotten neighbors" using videos and photos. It also allows users to leave positive comments about neighbors. But not many of the comments were positive. During a recent visit I found several postings about housing being used by "illegal immigrants," a posting about a woman who complained that her neighbors were too loud, and another calling a man a racist murderer.

You have to register to post. (In some ways, RottenNeighbor strives to be a social-networking site - you can add friends, vote on posts, etc.) So while your post may be anonymous, you are not - at least to the people who run the site.

David Ardia, director of the Harvard Law School-affiliated Citizen Media Law Project, calls anonymity a complex issue and one that is changing with the way people consume information with advances in technology. And we need to look at the question of anonymity in a variety of ways.

Take, for instance, the recent case involving Wikileaks.org, designed to let whistle-blowers anonymously report on or post documents about government or corporate misdeeds. The site was "disappeared" last week by a judge after it was sued by an arm of a Swiss bank located in the Cayman Islands.

"Anonymous political speech is absolutely protected by the First Amendment," says Mr. Ardia, who had earlier told the media that the actions of the judge in the Wikileaks case were unconstitutional. …

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