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Small town gossip mill explodes online

It has been said the difference between your reputation and your character is that your reputation is who you are when everybody is watching and your character is who you become when you can remain anonymous. If this is the case, there are dozens, if not hundreds, in Johnson County with anemic characters judging from the hateful, defamatory remarks constantly exploding on Topix, an interactive internet bulletin board of sorts.
Although on its website, Topix describes itself as, “the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them in every U.S. town and city,” a quick glance at the site reveals nothing more than a dangerous, damaging gossip mill with immature people constantly spewing slander.
Originally, Topix was created as a community news forum, which categorized news stories for thousands of communities throughout the United States and featured newsworthy events, sports scores and community happenings. Everything drastically changed when Topix managers made the decision to allow anyone and everyone to post anything they wish on the site without giving up any personal information making it inviting, and quite simple, to spread all manner of falsehoods against of your choice.
Although the site seems to run without moderators or editors, if you look closely, hidden in a little warning, users agree to not use the site to “upload, post, e-mail, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, torturous, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable; . . .” – yeah, right. For those who frequent the threads of this online forum and comfortably post comments behind the shield of anonymity, venomous comments rule. But, what can be done, if anything?
Unfortunately, not a lot. Although there are laws against “cyber bullying,” current laws simply cannot keep up with technology. Michael Fertik, a lawyer who specializes in online defamation, was quoted in an ABC News story as saying: “The law as it currently stands is an accomplice because it creates no incentive whatsoever for Web sites to review or police themselves from content that is potentially devastating to real people and real lives.” Part of the problem, Fertik said, is that “laws that made sense at the birth of the Internet age have not matured.”
Perhaps the most effective way to curtail the slanderous lies being spread electronically is to force the poster to register and reveal their identity; however, so far, the company has displayed a lack any moral or ethical standard by requiring the same. If Facebook and Twitter can authenticate and verify authors, why can’t Topix? They obviously do no care about the hate filled atmosphere they propagate, much less the feelings and reputations of their users.
We received a call this week at The Tomahawk asking us to remove something posted on Topix. I assume the caller had noticed that Topix has some of our articles highlighted on their site. Topix pulls articles from local newspapers to boost creditability to their site, and The Tomahawk has NO AFFILIATION with the company whatsoever. Our website is www.thetomahawk.com.
To me, and to a lot of other reasonable people, Topix is the pond scum of the internet. Just like many other things, what began as a harmless avenue to share information, events and ideas, Topix quickly became used as evil when it was ambushed by people with nothing better to do than gossip about anyone without restrictions. While I am all for ones’ right to free speech, I also believe freedom without responsibility leads to chaos.