Trolls days are coming:
Topix becomes matter of concern for judicial system
12:59 PM, Wednesday, October 03
WILLIAMSON -“Some of the worst offenders who frequent the Topix websites in the entire United States are right here in Mingo County,” stated Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury, during a hearing in his courtroom this week.
Judge Thornsbury was using a case scheduled for trial in October in circuit court that involves allegations of sexual misconduct against a Mingo County educator as a prime example of what problems can occur when the public hides behind the curtain of anonymity and posts derogatory comments and personal feelings about a case that has not yet been to trial, and no verdict has been reached.
“You see remarks on this site that absolutely qualifies as character assassination,” stated the judge.“And before anyone gets upset and says we’re all entitled to our opinion and the 1st Amendment of the Constitution protects our rights to freedom of speech, yes that it correct. But – it does not apply to those who hide behind an alias to attack someone on Topix.”
“The U.S. Congress needs to adopt stricter laws to govern sites like these, or shut them down completely.”
The case regarding sexual misconduct allegations involving students under the age of 18 has reportedly become a target for several Tug Valley residents who do not list their names while posting unflattering remarks. Judge Thornsbury agreed to an order proposed by Defense Attorney Jane Moran to issue a total of 20 subpoenas to Topix to acquire the Internet Protocol (IP) address for the forum threads specific to this case, which will be used to reveal the identity of those who made the posts.
“They will be unmasked, their identity will be known,” stated the Judge.“Inappropriate behavior like that can taint a jury pool in the blink of an eye. It’s impossible to un-ring a bell after its rung. People read the comments on Topix and they form a preconceived notion or belief about whether a person is innocent or guilty before a defendant even has the opportunity to plead his or her case in court.”
Numerous lawsuits against Topix or those who post untruths on the site, are popping up in great numbers all across the U.S., with one landmark case dated April of this year in Clarksville, Texas resulting in a judgment in the amount of $13 million being awarded to a couple whose attorney had requested the court to subpoena 178 IP addresses involving derogatory and slanderous posting on the Topix forum in their town.
In Ironton, Ohio, in March of 2011, Ralph Cox, Jr. filed a lawsuit against five anonymous Topix commenters who posted remarks that he claimed defamed his character and harmed his reputation. The lawsuit alleged that the unknown defendants posted written statements on the website that portrayed the plaintiff in a false and untrue manner.
“The defendants made and published the statements they knew were false or that demonstrated a reckless disregard for the truth, knowing full well they would result in harm to the plaintiff’s interest”, stated the attorney representing the victim.
The lawsuit further alleges that the defendants published the statements maliciously and with full intentions to injure, vex or annoy the plaintiff and as a result of doing so, irreparably harmed and tainted his reputation.
After subpoenas were signed by the local judge and issued to Topix, the name of the anonymous poster was unveiled, and revealed that a total of 20 posts under 5 different screen names were posted against Cox, all from the same IP address. Mark Vaughan, also of Ironton, was the individual responsible for the derogatory statements, and following the conclusion of the civil trial, was ordered to pay the plaintiff $250,000 in damages for his actions.
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