HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- The high cost of free speech allows gossip websites to let anonymous posters to attack students.
According to the chief engineer of schooldirt.com, Emmanuel, the website was founded right here in the Valley by students attending James Madison University.
Part two of this report looks at what the law states, and what JMU said is its responsibility.
"Currently our main target area is JMU, but we do have plans for expansion in the near future to other schools in Virginia and actually around the nation," said Emmanuel
It's an unsettling thought, a website designed and operated by JMU students that offers a platform for students to slander each other anonymously.
Olivia Long, a JMU student named on a similar site, although not portrayed in a negative light, said the thought of it spreading across Virginia and then the nation is concerning.
"I don't think it's a good reflection on our school at all. I think that it's just people who are bored who just want to have something to do and think it's a good idea to be able to spread gossip on a site like this," said Long
Posts about students spreading STD's across campus and girls called names like slut and psycho path are completely legal, according to first amendment expert Dr. Roger Soenksen.
"Websites wouldn't hold liability because there's too vast an array of web pages posted every day that they couldn't possibly monitor for content. And that would be a prior restraint which the court says is a violation of the individual's first amendment right to post," said Soenksen.
Soenksen is also a JMU professor.
He said there's just too much out there to keep track of each and every post and if those websites were to censor, it would violate the poster's first amendment rights.
So what if a crime was committed against one the people listed on the website?
"Under the law, the website would not have any liability because they're not encouraging individuals to go out and commit a particular action," said Soenksen.
We asked Bill Wyatt, a JMU spokesman, if he knew about the website and its content?
"Well the university administration is just now learning about these websites. We certainly don't condone any of the activity on there or even the existence of the websites," said Wyatt.
Schooldirt.com is nothing new, according to the creators, the site was founded two years ago.
Soenksen said he had only heard about the website through chatter at JMU.
When asked if it was students talking, he said, mostly faculty.
"I mean if a faculty sees it I think it should be brought up. I don't think they should ignore it. I don't think it's necessarily their responsibility, but I also think just as a human being they should go and complain about this website," said Long
JMU administrators are doing all they can and say they will investigate if a student files a complaint.
"They're are ones who are providing the forum for these students to be victimized. The university is here as a resource for the students. We're constantly preaching to our students about how to stay safe in various situations and we have resources available to them should they need them," said Wyatt.
So if the website is not responsible and and the posts are anonymous, can anyone be held accountable?
"The supposition that you're posting something anonymous is simply wrong. You leave a paper trail so to speak in the digital age, a binary code, so we can track you down," said Soenksen.
Online bullying has become a hot button issue across the country with current litigation and criminal charges reshaping how the courts view character attacks in the digital age.
"The key would be, have I been harmed? And I would have to go in and demonstrate people have shunned me, that there have been job opportunities lost or simply that that questioning goes so far beyond the call of normal communication that the jury should assume damage has been done," said Soenksen.
JMU does want students to know help is out there. The school offers health and counseling services and there are also also clubs, like The Red Flag campaign, which deals with dating violence.
You can also talk to JMU's judicial affairs because it's important to note that the law is constantly changing.
As more of these cases gain national attention and litigation becomes more frequent, the courts could take another look at who is to blame.
So what can a student do if his or her name is on the website?
The simple answer is get a lawyer. a lawyer can convince a judge to order an anonymous poster's identity to be released.
Because this area is relatively new in the courts, a jury could assess punitive damages in a civil court and that could be worth millions of dollars.
© Copyright 2014 WHSV / Gray Television Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.