LEX 18 On Special Assignment

May 25, 2011 4:50 PM

"Topix" Message Board Website Criticized For Allowing "Abusive, Cruel" Comments

LEX 18 is on special assignment asking the question: "When does the popular message board, Topix, go too far?"

Many people say the website posts abusive comments that can ruin reputations, to the point where the attorney general's office gets dozens of complaints on a regular basis.

Just how "low" do some of the postings go? A Pulaski County woman said there seems to be no bounds. "They attacked everything there was to attack," said Tammy Basin, whose daughter, Brittany, died in a DUI crash. "(They) said things that can't even be repeated. They made comments that my daughter deserved to die. I can't even describe to you what I felt about that. It was so callus.">

The website features news and community forums across the country for anonymous posters. But often, the forums turn personal and downright derogatory. Removing the comments is not so easy, as Bastin found out when she spoke to someone at the Topix headquarters in California.

"I was told there is a fine line between freedom of speech and slander and in slander you have to prove damages," said Bastin. "Since my daughter was deceased, I couldn't prove any damages."

Topix CEO Chris Tolles disputes Bastin's claims. "I have a hard time believing anyone in my office would say that," he said. Tolles said he has five full-time people who screen for abusive comments, but there are thousands and thousands that come in every day.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and 34 other AG's across the country have gone after Topix. "When Topix was allowing young people and public officials to be defamed on their websites, we joined forces with other AG's to force (Topix) to follow other procedures," said Conway.

The pressure forced Topix to waive its $19.99 fee to review abusive comments, which are supposed to be "monitored." Conway sees improvement but clearly it's still a problem.

One poster checked by LEX 18 lists a woman's first and last name and writes, "she cheats on her husband." And another poster accuses a man of being gay, writing, "he hates women," and other comments are just too vulgar for TV.

Tolles said about the content, "We're doing what we can to move to a more civil-minded discussions, but at the end of the day, we're like the TMZ for small towns."

Consumers can report abusive posts by utilizing the links available on the Topix website. If the post is not removed within three working days, consumers are encouraged to report it to the Office of the Attorney General at topixcomplaints@ag.ky.gov

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