After overseeing the College Anonymous Confession Board (ACB) website’s expansion from serving just a handful of schools to over 500, Peter Frank ’12 sold the website this week to an undisclosed buyer. Frank declined to state the selling price, but said he made a “healthy profit.”
College ACB is a website that permits students from campuses nationwide to post anonymously on the website. The ACB attracted national media attention and a great deal of controversy because of the frequency with which students use it to attack and slander other students. Frank said he has granted hundreds of interviews to the media, including one for Time Magazine.
Frank negotiated with the buyer for several months before making the deal. Although he does not know the new owner’s specific plans for the website, he expressed confidence that the new owner will run the site in a way that is consistent with the values that he has pushed for when he ran the site.
“He’s assured me that he wants to run it ethically,” Frank said. “A lot of the sincere confessions and asking for advice, less of the ‘who’s the biggest slut on campus’ sort of stuff.”
Because Frank has given up his entire stake in the website, he will not retain control over how it will be run in the future. He said that he hopes the site will eventually have a stronger communal moderation system and he plans to give the new owner “casual consultation” from time to time.
Frank acquired the College ACB in January 2008 and oversaw its dramatic growth after he made a deal to have the traffic from a competing site, JuicyCampus, redirected to the ACB. The site’s traffic increased eightfold to nearly half a million overnight. JuicyCampus went out of business after advertisers pulled out, and the site came under investigation by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General for potentially violating the Consumer Fraud Act. Frank said he made the decision to acquire JuicyCampus’ traffic in a window of 45 minutes and thus did not have time to fully consider the type of users he was inheriting.
“I thought fiscally it made a lot of sense…. But I guess had I sat down and thought about it longer I might have realized that it might have been naïve to I think I could change these people’s opinions. I certainly didn’t anticipate it would be as difficult as it was, or is.”
But Frank differentiated the ACB from websites such as JuicyCampus by pointing out that the ACB does not encourage the posting of lewd or salacious comments. He said the ACB also has a robust post deletion request form that he placed in a prime advertisement spot, which resulted in deletion requests shooting up from a few dozen a day to several hundred. Frank said he has personally deleted over 30,000 posts from the website.
Frank believes the ACB has served, and will continue to serve, as a useful tool for students. He recalled how on the day of the May 2009 shooting, while the University’s website and Wesleying were down, some students turned to the Wesleyan ACB to find out information and seek comfort. According to Frank, some students offered rides on the ACB for those who wanted to get off campus, and even alumni in New York offered to let students stay in their homes. Frank believes that, at least on the Wesleyan ACB, students can vent and find support for problems without revealing their identity.
“It’s not uncommon to see someone go on there saying, ‘I’ve decided to go back to being anorexic’, and there’s 10 people saying very sincerely, or so it seems, ‘I did this, it’s just going to set you back, join an ED group’—something of that nature.”
Still, Frank admitted that he is surprised about how hateful some posts are, especially those from schools originally on the JuicyCampus network.
After the ACB became widely publicized, the website, and Frank, received pointed criticism from students and school administrators from other colleges and universities that came in the form of editorials, name-calling, and even calls to have certain schools removed from the ACB. But Frank said that the personal attacks directed at him did not factor into his decision to sell the site.
“I feel like I already received the lion’s share of flak that I will,” he said. “And it’s not particularly hurtful because oftentimes it’s so misguided, and it’s not as if these people know who I am. They’re not my friends. They’re just dealing with this, sort of, persona of me that’s incredibly distorted as a result of unfair media bias.”
Although Frank has received threats of lawsuits, which he passed on to his lawyers, he said that the website is well protected under the Communications Decency Act, which protects service providers from content that users disseminate.
Frank said that he believes websites like the ACB will not disappear anytime soon, and that he has consistently tried to set the bar higher than many of his competitors.
“Sites like these aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “The technology behind them is very simple. The law is very clear. Anyone can start a site like this… I’ve been fending off competitors my entire time running this site whose only angle has been that they’re going to be more salacious, more libelous, and more damaging than the next.”
With the ACB out of his hands, Frank says he remains interested in working on projects dealing with online communities. But he plans to focus on something less controversial in the future.
“I like building communities and building around user-generated content, but I’m certainly not going to be doing anything that’s focused on anonymity,” Frank said. “I’d like to be able to do something that I can very proudly put on a résumé.”