The Internet is a mean, nasty place and Topix, a gossip forum masquerading as a community news site, is only making it worse. Chris Tolles, Topix's chief executive, calls his sites "The Gawker for every little town in America," reports The New York Times's heir A.G. Sulzberger. But the sites, which Topix initially wanted to act as "hyperlocal news aggregator with separate pages for every community in the country," have turned into a "cesspool of character assassination." These sites are more dangerous than mini-Gawkers, they're like what the snarky blog would read like if the seventh grade popular girls had full editorial control.
Without social consequences these forums get pretty nasty. A sampling from a Mountain Grove, MO forum, which Sulzberger mentions in his piece:
Joann has stolen money life insurance policies and a vehicle from a dead women forged her name and is now talking shit about the family she screwed but her day is coming and from what the lawyers say she will probably be going to the pen which is where she belongs after the low life things she has done. She is a pill freak and stole the women medication, and is now trying to trash talk the family.
Or a little later on in the topic thread:
Joann.....is simply....how do i put this....ummm...a....B.I.T.C.H. .......S.K.A.N.K.Y......N.A.S. T.Y.......E.W.W.W.W.W
As you can see, these gossips talk about real people and since they reach large audiences, these nasty remarks have real consequences, but the company hosting them does not. "Topix, as an Internet forum," Sulzberger notes, "is immune from libel suits under federal law, but those who post could be sued, if they are found." It's nearly impossible to separate truth from fiction, and a false or not these rumors can have just as a disastrous effect on people. "A woman in Austin, Ind., killed herself and her three children this year. Hours earlier she wrote on the Web site where her divorce had been a topic of conversation, 'Now it’s time to take the pain away,'" continues Sulzberger.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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