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Duke U. Student’s Porn Career a Boon for Latest College-Themed Gossip Site

In January a Duke University student stumbled upon a piece of gossip that would turn out to be valuable to the campus-gossip website CollegiateACB: One of his female classmates at Duke has a side career as a porn star, working under the pseudonym Belle Knox.

On January 10 the student who had discovered his classmate’s secret shared it with attendees at a fraternity rush event. Before long, the woman’s real name had been posted on CollegiateACB, a message board where students can post anonymous notes.

The woman has since given interviews—never under her real name—in which she has said the unmasking was a nightmare. For Timothy O’Shea, the 24-year-old president of CollegiateACB, it was a boon.

Her name has been disclosed by other sites, although many news outlets, including The Chronicle, are choosing not to publish it. But Mr. O’Shea says CollegiateACB may have been the first place the student’s name appeared online. The site’s role in her unmasking has been great publicity for the site, which relies on web traffic to sell advertising.

“Any school controversy, or anything that’s happening at a school, is good for business,” Mr. O’Shea said in an interview on Thursday.

CollegiateACB is the latest in a succession of anonymous gossip sites, known to critics as “burn boards,” that have frustrated students and campus officials for the better part of a decade. In 2007, JuicyCampus, a seminal college-gossip site, was founded by Matt Ivester, a Duke alumnus.

When JuicyCampus shut down two years later, CollegeACB, short for “anonymous confession board,” inherited the mantle. In 2011 the site’s founder, Peter Frank, sold CollegeACB to a mysterious buyer, who renamed the site Blipdar before shuttering it.

CollegiateACB is the latest heir. Mr. O’Shea said he started the site in early 2012. It is not as popular as its predecessors, drawing about a million page views last month (Mr. Frank’s site was attracting 20 times that at its peak), but Mr. O’Shea said that the website has seen “a substantial increase in traffic in general” since the Duke story broke.

Administrators of past gossip sites have selectively censored the message boards, usually in response to complaints. For his part, Mr. O’Shea said he had moderated thousands of CollegiateACB posts and had warned that users who post addresses and phone numbers will be blocked. With regard to the Duke porn star, he said he had been in touch with “certain individuals very close to the situation” and had removed the initial comment thread about the porn-star student. In addition, the site administrator has set up a protocol in which the student’s real name is automatically redacted from posts.

But the system is hardly foolproof. Users of CollegiateACB continue to post the Duke porn star’s real name, along with the names of other students.

Mr. O’Shea, a first-year law student at New York Law School, knows that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 gives him cover from lawsuits based on what users post on the site. Still, the CollegiateACB founder said he wanted to do right by students if “things get out of hand.” He said he had cooperated with the campus police at the College of William & Mary to identify a student who had posted death threats against two other students on the site.

Short of explicit threats, however, CollegiateACB makes no promises about honoring takedown requests. “Repeated malicious defamation of character/targeted personal attacks may be grounds for removal,” reads the site’s policy page—double emphasis on “may.”

“In a world where we have less and less, I don’t want to say ‘rights,’” Mr. O’Shea began at one point in the interview. He then paused and asked to rephrase. “The most important thing that people have is their rights,” he continued. “And it shouldn’t be up to me to decide what people should or should not say.”

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