Gossip is moving off bathroom walls and onto the Internet.
The University is one of 24 colleges with a page on TheDirty.com, a reality blogging Web site that launched in March 2007.
The site solicits the submission of photos, with captions, of everyday individuals. The site’s blogger, using the pseudonym Nik Richie, adds his comments and uploads the content.
Though reality blogging sites are gaining popularity, not all students are thrilled with the content – especially when it includes them.
Sarah Hansen, a preradiology sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was shocked to hear she was featured in a photo with an acquaintance on the Web site.
The photo’s caption calls another girl a “slut” and refers to her purchase of breast implants with student loan refund money. Though the comment wasn’t about her, Hansen said she doesn’t feel any better about being on the site.
“Being on a site called TheDirty.com might make people not think well of me and think I am a slut, too,” she said.
Moving blogging from celebrity to reality
Ari Golden, president and CEO of TheDirty.com, said Richie, coined the “first reality blogger,” created the Web site to bring reality to the gossip Web site scene. In the past, gossip Web sites focused on celebrities rather than ordinary people.
“We hope everybody gets a laugh out of it,” he said. “It’s all for fun and satire.”
In the site’s first month online, it received 900 hits and is projected to receive 13 million hits this month, Golden said.
Reality blogging sites are gaining popularity just as reality TV shows did, Golden said.
“With the advent of reality television, we saw there is even a bigger demand to learn about the person next door,” he said, “and that is what we have done on the Internet.”
Kelly Dahlman, a communications sophomore at Arizona State University, who is transferring to the University next fall and has visited the site, said TheDirty.com is well-known at ASU. But Dahlman said not all agree with its content.
“The line is drawn when people say a girl needs to lose 50 pounds, is a whore, or ‘The whole frat has gone through this girl,’ she said.
Is this legal?
William McGeveran, an associate professor at the University’s Law School who teaches privacy law, said in most situations Web sites can’t be held liable for defamation, which is defined as untrue comments or invasion of privacy.
“Some of these sites are responsive to requests that material be removed, others are not,” he said. “Legal action is a pretty dramatic step and for some people the lawsuit will make things harder, not easier.”
The Web site’s policy, Golden said, is that people with complaints can contact the site. The photo then goes under a seven-day advisement to determine the appropriate action.
“We monitor everything that goes up on the site at one point,” he said.
Golden said the site has removed hundreds of pictures and does not contain nudity or profanity, with its goal being to keep the site “PG.”
The tabloid generation
Dahlman said despite its popularity, whether the site exists for the right reasons is in question.
“It is just our generation,” she said. “We are super into tabloids, reading up on people – we like the gossip.”
Golden said he hopes the site becomes the place to go when someone has a funny photo, just as America’s Funniest Home Videos was the place to send a humorous video in the 1980s.
“We don’t go out and find pictures,” he said. “People send them to us.”
McGeveran said the same features on the Internet that allow open communication also allow malicious gossip, which makes the problem difficult to curb.
Until the law changes, McGeveran said the best protection against ending up on a site like TheDirty.com is to use your best judgment when in public, even though most of the photos depict “innocent college life.”
“All of us have errors of judgment sometimes and the penalty didn’t used to be a permanent record with strangers mocking it,” he said.