Don’t like what someone is saying about you on the Topix.com Frankfort forum? It’ll cost you $19.99 to have that negative comment removed.
That fee doesn’t sit well with Attorney General Jack Conway who is investigating the Web site’s policy for dealing with abusive posts after receiving dozens of complaints.
Some examples of discussions in the Frankfort forum include “tramps in thongs” and “who’s the cheating men in Frankfort.”
According to a press release from Conway’s office, the tools provided by Topix.com to remove the abusive posts are ineffective unless consumers agree to pay a $19.99 fee.
Conway and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General Mulitstate Task Force on Internet safety, sent a letter Thursday to Topix.com CEO Chris Tolles.
A spokesman for Topix.com did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An initial investigation by the attorneys general reveals that the “Forums and Polls” section is used to post derogatory information and appears to operate without moderators, Conway said in the press release.
“In fact, a large percentage of the posts in some Kentucky forums contain explicit, vulgar, obscene and defamatory posts about citizens, including children.”
Conway and Blumenthal urged Topix to remove abusive posts as soon as possible and not try to profit from their removal.
Even though the Web site allows users to “flag” posts for removal, consumers have found that to be ineffective, Conway said. Consumers are also given the option of paying $19.99 for an “expedited review,” which does appear effective for post removal.
“How outrageous that targets of false and obscene posts may be victimized twice—first by the abusive comment and then by the charge to remove it,” Blumenthal said.
The attorneys general say they respect a person’s first amendment rights and the protections afforded to Internet Service Providers by federal law; however, the first amendment does not protect libelous comments, according to a news release.
Topix.com is the self-described “leading news community on the Web” and is based in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Web site collects news from more than 50,000 sources, including state-journal.com, and has about 360,000 discussion forums.
It’s a joint venture of the Gannet, McClatchy and Tribune media companies.
Discussion forums were added in 2005 and are frequented by Frankfort Web users.
In February 2009, a couple from Texas sued almost 180 anonymous posters on Topix.com for posting defamatory statements about their criminal trial for sexual assault. The case is still pending.