Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Take A Look Into Topix - Mass Bullying Across Thousands Of Small US Towns

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 8, 2013

By Virginia Hoge

My name is Virginia Olive Hoge and I am in the strange and fated position of being one of the first people who noticed that something very alarming was happening on Topix.com. Over three and a half years ago, I noticed how it was being used as a vehicle for slander, to batter people online.

I was dragged onto Topix when my liberal blog was attacked there. I was slandered in a series of attack threads on the Pasadena, CA, Topix forum, the kind I would soon find out were everywhere.

I'm a fighter and I fought back against my attackers and slowly picked up commenting and resistance techniques. I refused to back down to bullying.

I looked around Topix, all over the country and beyond, and found out what happened to me was happening on almost every single forum, in thousands and thousands of towns, with the number of victims probably somewhere in the tens of thousands.

Threads slandering people by their real names, are everywhere on Topix. It is a sad reality, that they have cost jobs, relationships, marriages, even lives.

Topix has replaced newspapers in many of these small towns and people are reading the below-the-belt trashy gossip, even knowing how easy it is to fabricate.

A Google search for "dead beat moms" -- a common thread title you see all over Topix -- reveals just the beginning of the enormous scope of the slander problem. The search results go on and on for pages and pages.

Women are trashed by their real names, their children are named, the works. This Google search will show you: http://bit.ly/XUrDHQ

Here is a very typical Topix real-name slander thread from the Pikeville, KY, Topix forum:

http://www.topix.com/forum/city/pikeville-ky/TNP6R2IE58FB1K3HB

Take a look at the forum and see how many others there are just like it, and remember, this is the forum that Topix CEO Chris Tolles himself linked to in an interview. It is not as bad as some forums, on many others almost every post is a slander thread.

Know that this is just one forum, calculate the number of people being slandered all over the country. The problem is international, check out the Belfast, North Ireland forum:

http://www.topix.com/forum/uk/belfast/T1LOL1A25UTUOO15B

The only way to get something like this removed is to file "Feedback" with Topix and it is notorious for its dysfunctionality. Threads and posts take hours, days, weeks to delete, and the trolls can easily just post another one and start in again.

When some of the many victims try and sue they are blocked by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which fully protects Topix from accountability, from anything posted there.

It has allowed for the tens of thousands of Topix victims to get burned, twice. The first time by the slander, the second by the impossibility of legal recourse.

The pain of Topix victims is very real. I have seen so much of it.

I will never forget a father who was posting on the Topix Palo Alto forum and elsewhere, begging for help. The local trolls on his hometown Topix forum, were posting he was raping his own son, the posts took forever to get removed and were then put back up again by the troll persecuting him.

The agony of that father is repeated every day on Topix.

When I first discovered the scope of the problems on Topix, I was sure that as soon as reporters found out about it about it they would do something to halt the harm that was going on.

But in the surreal time frame of 2005 on -- and I do believe this had a lot to do with it -- newspapers and print media have been in sharp decline, as was investigative journalism.

Speaking out to Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix:

http://open.salon.com/blog/virginia888/2011/10/15/speaking_out_to_chris_tolles_ceo_of_topix

I do not know how they get away with their sex forum: http://www.topix.com/forum/news/sex. Or the sale of illegal drugs on Topix: http://www.topix.com/forum/drug/valium.

This young girl is one of the many not known about Topix suicide victims -- she was 17.

http://www.topix.com/forum/city/morgantown-ky/TDA9T193S8A64BU35

Her life mattered. Every life is important.

Take a look into Topix, far too many innocent lives are being destroyed there.

- - -

 

Here is a New York Times article from November 2011: 

 

Small-Town Gossip Moves to the Web, Anonymous and Vicious - NYTimes.com

 A. G Sulzberger reports:

...in Dee’s Place, people are not happy. A waitress, Pheobe Best, said that the site had provoked fights and caused divorces. The diner’s owner, Jim Deverell, called Topix a “cesspool of character assassination.” And hearing the conversation, Shane James, the cook, wandered out of the kitchen tense with anger.

His wife, Jennifer, had been the target in a post titled “freak,” he said, which described the mother of two as, among other things, “a methed-out, doped-out whore with AIDS.” Not a word was true, Mr. and Ms. James said, but the consequences were real enough.

Friends and relatives stopped speaking to them. Trips to the grocery store brought a crushing barrage of knowing glances. She wept constantly and even considered suicide. Now, the couple has resolved to move.

“I’ll never come back to this town again,” Ms. James said in an interview at the diner. “I just want to get the hell away from here.”

...

Mr. Tolles acknowledged the biggest problem at the site is “keeping the conversation on the rails.” But he defended it on free-speech grounds. He said the comments are funny to read, make private gossip public, provide a platform for “people who have negative things to say” and are better for business.

At one point, he said, the company tried to remove all negative posts, but it stopped after discovering that commenters had stopped visiting the site.

...

After a challenge from more than 30 state attorneys general, Topix stopped charging for the expedited removal of offensive comments — which Jack Conway, the attorney general for Kentucky, said “smacked of having to pay a fee to get your good name back.”

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