UnderCover Waitress: Censorship, Topix, and SOPA (oh, my)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Censorship, Topix, and SOPA (oh, my)

1/30/2012 Addendum: The heartfelt comments people have made in disagreement with this post (both public and private) showed intelligence and critical thinking. I believe I stand corrected. Today's post, Rebuttal, reiterates some of the arguments for the people to put pressure on the lawmakers to hold bullies accountable or end Topix.

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Still celebrating that SOPA has been tabled. Freedom of Expression, 1 point, Censorship on the Internet, 0.

Was contacted awhile back by a woman concerned about internet bullying on a site called Topix. Her note gave me pause because she said there was a petition at Change.org to take down or reform the site.

Topix is a site that has numerous, location-based subsections. When you sign up, you join your neighborhood's or town's or city's local discussion group. Forums are open, and you don't have to live in an area to join their conversation. The forums are full of both locale-based discussions and opinion-based discussions. For example, "Human Sexuality" is a forum topic. At first blush, Topix does seem to deliberately start heated conversations. They are currently sponsoring a poll about abortion on the landing page, not exactly a subject for light chit-chat.

People who wish to end or reform Topix are concerned about internet bullying in the forums. They allege that people have committed suicide as a result of things said in the forums, and that even children are targeted.

Of course, I went to the website and poked around. I don't know enough to comment on the veracity of the allegations of internet harassment and bullying. For sake of argument, let's say these allegations are accurate and correct.

Freedom of Speech stops the government from hindering citizens' expression and assemblage. Freedom of Speech does not, however, force anybody to listen to the sludge that pours out of some people's mouths.

In 1977, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fought for a neo-Nazi group's right to march through a town in Chicago that was home to many, many Holocaust-survivors. I cry when I think about that "victory." I also understand why the ACLU won.

The petition on Change.org is poorly written and poorly reasoned.

"Topix is making a profit off of the very serious issues of bullying, harassment, drug sales, racism, and sexual predators witn (sic) no accountability."

Okay, if that is true, law enforcement should be involved in attempting to stop illegal drug sales and crimes committed by sexual predators. I am cynical, and am open to the idea that allegations of illegal behavior are true.

"Topix allows hidden posters, without required registration, to post anything they want. This means that in many areas, especially small towns, users slander, libel  and defame other people without human moderation."

Sincerely, I do think that is too bad. Lots of sites require some form of registration.

"This is not what the framers of our Constitution meant by first amendment. (sic) The first right of all people is life, liberty, AND the  pursuit of happiness. When one is attacked on Topix that right has been taken away." 

And we have yet another example of an American with no concept of what the Constitution really says! "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. If I had a nickel for every time an American displayed being utterly clueless about the Constitution, my riches would rival Mitt Romney's.

When somebody says something about you that hurts your feelings, you have not been stripped of any rights. If, however, what that person said is 1) not true, and 2) causes you damages, you should probably discuss the issue with a lawyer.

"The company has even claimed that freedom of speech (sic) is more important than one's feelings. That is morally deplorable... People are being forced to move to different towns and there have been incidents of violence because of the Topix website." 

Freedom of Speech is more important than somebody's feelings, or as some internet lovelies like to say, somebody's "butt-hurt." I have no information regarding families choosing to move as a result of things said on Topix, but at this point, I have no further interest in participating on Topix.

I strongly recommend to anybody who feels Topix is toxic to simply stop reading and interacting on the site, as well.

16 comments :

  1. As I read your aticle and think checked out that petition, I have to respectfully say your article is the one that is poorly written and I want to explain why. First, I am familiar with the Change.org website and that is one of the most thorough petitions I have seen. Second, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. Libel is a crime and try cussing out a judge or police officer sometime. The first amendment has been abused. Third, this concept of ignoring the site is frankly a childish, illogical argument. Even if you ignore the website, that doesn't help because your reputation is still being destroyed. For instance, if I were to call you a pedofile and post it on a site like Topix with your name and town and half the town read it and believed it, your reputation would be gone even if you didn't know about it. My freedom ends where yours begins. When someone has to hire a lawyer they are being raped twice. No where in that petition did they claim that the pursuit of happiness was part of the Constitution. Not every right was written in the Constitution. The pursuit of the American dream is why the Consitution was written so the author of that petition was spot on.

    If your child committed suicide over Topix, would your reaction be "Oh well my kid is dead, but spreading lies is more important than human life."

    I did some further research and found this site fascinating. It is at http://toxictopix.webs.com. Why do you think most states have adopted cyberbullying laws, because there are certain things that should not be allowed. Why, according to the site I listed, has tons of newspapers dropped Topix? Because it is wrong. Your way offbase on this one.

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  2. @Steve, you just made salient arguments. I hope more readers chime in with their opinions on this matter; am curious to know how others feel about it, as well.

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  3. I think the internet bullying is so widespread now because there really are no "gatekeepers" when it comes to monitoring content. These discussion board software packages are so cheap and easy to acquire and configure, it makes you kind of wonder who are these clowns running the sites which allow such inflammatory content.

    We have to remember that there is no accountability to the websites that allow content to go unfiltered. They should have a certain civil responsibility if they put up sites which allow content that may be harmful to others who participate. If they can't do that or do not have the resources to do that, then I believe they shouldn't be able to operate on that level. The internet allows for so much anonymity that it goes beyond the whole freedom of speech issues. Now we're forced with fighting the words from unknown sources with no accountability whatsoever. That's just wrong in my opinion.

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  4. Here is my take on this. The argument of SOPA and Topix are two entirely different things. I am not in favor of SOPA, but I am very much in favor of something being done about blatant libel. According to a statistical study, a majority of Americans want more done about cyberbullying and libel online, yet when a bill like SOPA comes along people go nuts. I will say this and once again, I am not in favor of SOPA but the companies who went nuts over SOPA could care less about censorship. They are afraid they would lose money. Let's not kid ourselves there.

    In regards to Topix, I have a real passion in this area. I work with victims of cyberbullying in West Virginia (where Topix is a major problem). The police have stated numerous times that Topix is the most problematic site they deal with and the attorney general of West Virginia has stated more complaints are filed regarding Topix than any other website. I definitely understand your argument and I believe going on Topix is largely a mistake because if you defend yourself you will likely be attacked even worse. But, and this is a huge but, because of the lack of rules and laws that does not mean you are safe. Particularly in small towns, if someone claims the Undercover Waitress is a drug user or a pedofile, you can apply for a job or walk into a business and have your life ruined. The argument I have heard is bullying has always occurred. There is a major difference. Online makes it much more permanent and it reaches hundreds, potentially thousands of people instantly. Getting called a name at school is only going to be heard for a select few. Going on Topix, it is seen by thousands.

    My issue with Topix is they won't even do the little things to try and curve some of the bullying because they have no confidence that a reputable user who actually wants to comment on social issues, politics, etc. would be against taking thirty seconds to sign up for an account. Their business model in itself speaks volumes.

    In regards to your comments and I think you are a little offbase on this one (I have read some of your other stuff and often agree with you, but not on this one), I issue you or anyone else a challenge and I hope you don't take offense to what I said, but the comment you made about speech triumphing feelings is not true. That sort of believe only applies to narcissists, and psychopaths normally (I am not saying that is the case with you). If someone can't say it to your face, then they are plain and simple a coward of epic proportion and that is the last thing our forefathers intended this country to be---cowards.

    Here is my challenge and I offer it to you or anyone else. I am willing to pay to fly you in and put you up in a hotel for a few days for you to speak in front of the groups I work with. Do you have the guts to tell a mother whose child ended up in a mental ward or in some cases attempted or committed suicide over this vicious type of bullying, that speech triumphs the fact they now have a destroyed or dead child? Are you going to tell a man or woman that lost their marriage due to lies being told on Topix, to get over it? Are you going to tell a business owner who was accused of selling drugs out of his business, to get a job at McDonald's? Do you have the guts to tell a devastated mom, dad, citizen, or child to "not be so sensitive." Do you or anyone reading this site have the guts to do that and stand in front of a group of people who are in tears and many times afraid to even open their doors because of the abuse they now receive because of being targeted on a site like Topix? I once had someone take me up on that offer and they arrived with an attitude.They left in tears and now are one of the strongest advocates I know against this vicious type of bullying.

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    1. I do have the guts to stand up and agree with you 100% and not only that I think I have a way to hold Topix Accountable and put a sure fire end to their BS and the cyberbullies you can contact me at awisewon@netscape.net and don't have to fly me I am a new resident of your state almost 2 years now. My father was a highly awarded war hero from WV and in my life I have spent many years in and out of WV. I know a good bit about laws and a good bit about victims and being targets of Topix and many other issues. So contact me with your contact info and hopefully we can help each on this disgusting issue of Topix which I see as nothing but a destructive evil.

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    2. Topix is just the medium your gripe is with the bullies and I'd like to know how you suggest we go about having bullies disappear from human kind?It ain't gonna happen It's in human nature.People in this generation need to toughen up!You're never gonna get rid of bullies just don't give them the power over you,don't give them that satisfaction and they'll go away.If you can't do that and you commit suicide (I apologize for this but it's the truth)then I see that as natures way of weeding out the week.This world is getting hard with harder coming.Parents you need to educate your kids on REAL life,prepare them for what's coming or you're you are gonna fail miserably as a parent. There are some things you can change but not human nature especially the dark side of human nature all you can do is prepare your kids for the worst and hope to God they won't have to see the worst but at least they will be prepared.

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  5. This is actually the first time I've heard of Topix... I don't know if it's made it north of the border.

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  6. Judging from the comments and notes I have received since posting, you are much better off up there without it.

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    1. personally I don't think topix is a bully haven.I'm thinking some of these people have done something that makes them a target in the way they are reporting.If someone goads you on,don't respond or it will escalate.Everyone has a right to their opinion even if you don't agree with it.The site is there for people to post there opinions on topics.Come on kids let's learn how to play in the sandbox together.Stop your whining.

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  7. As a person who had never heard of Topix before late last year, let me make this clear: There is no requirement that a person has to visit the site in order to be targeted and defamed; I certainly had not.

    In effect, I, like many, found myself shanghaied into visiting Topix forums when "well meaning" friends told me what was being said about myself and my children. I knew it was true because all of a sudden people were googling me like crazy and landing on my personal blog. A few of them even left nasty, comments, of course, anonymously.

    The bullies on Topix are famous for using "free speech" as a pass to claim that they can say and do what whatever they want, but curiously enough, they will not exercise their free speech with their real names!

    They count on anonymity to protect them from the consequences of their actions. They also like to tell their victims to get over it and that they are being too sensitive. However, strangely enough, if you say one thing in defense of yourself, they will attack you mercilessly. You see, they can dish it out but they do not want to take it.

    Topix suckers victims into becoming reluctant visitors to their site by requiring that you visit their site to file a complaint. Since they allow any and all comments without moderation and they refuse to address abuse complaints, can you imagine how many comments a victim might find themselves facing after just a few days of bullying?

    I'd say maybe 10% of the complaints I made about abusive comments made in my name and in the name of my children and my publications were addressed . . . that is, until I started writing about Topix on my blog and posting screen caps of the type of garbage that was being allowed.

    On my blog I have proof that Topix admins, in response to a complaint of abuse actually removed my name from a comment and replaced it with "hateful beyotch". When I captured the screen pics and reposted it, guess what the admins did?

    They deleted the whole entire topic!

    Do you know about shadowing? Topix admins shadow comments. Let me explain what that means. Let's say someone says that you are a jobless, welfare, crack ho who lives in a trailer and you mistakenly go onto Topix to explain that you are actually a gainfully employed, respectful member of society. You might think your witty reply exists, because after all, you can see it but if it has been shadow banned, you will be the ONLY person who can see it. Anyone else who logs in from another I.P. address will be unable to see your comment.

    Topix allows bullies to defame and slander but they will NOT allow victims to defend themselves on their site.

    Oh, and while I am mentioning I.P. addresses, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the I.P. address blockers that bullies use to comment with multiple pseudonyms, so that they can abuse and harass their victims under the pretense of being multiple people.

    Because of the deranged bullies on Topix, multiple blogs were created about myself, all in the name of "freedom of speech".

    Freedom of speech is not the freedom to lie and abuse. The anonymity of the people posting on Topix makes filing suit a daunting task.

    You are "Under Cover Waitress" but imagine if an anonymous person was able to find out your real name and your real address, and then decided to create a forum topic on Topix that claimed you were a homeless mother who sexually abused her kids?

    This would show up in a google search in 20 minutes or less. Topix has empowered bullies to abuse at will and that is what has to end.

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  8. I just recently posted on Topix for the first time, I felt I had to it was about our local county commissioner who is in charge of animal control. He recently stated in an interview that he wouldn't be charging anyone with animal abuse unless it involves lots of animals. After a few people posted some stories and comments someone posted "leave him alone he's a good man and your just causing trouble for yourselves because he's got all the phones taped and knows who you are". Well this statement blew my mind and apparently many others, so after a couple of days all of a sudden all posts about illegal wire taps and all comments about this idiot county commissioner vanished. I was shocked it disappeared, so being new to Topix I started to look around there website and research them through Google and I found all kinds of people saying things about others and even using there address and nothing was happening, there posts are old and untouched. I guess if you speak out about some government employs who need to be talked about you get censored pretty quick but if you are defaming or harassing a normal everyday citizen then I guess they don't care what happens. One of the major points I'm trying to make is they are apparently monitoring there website and they know what is going on.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this story. Accusing somebody of wire fraud or using illegal wire taps is extremely dangerous territory. The "Patriot Act" gave the federal gov. the right to hold people suspected of such things indefinitely, without charges or trial.

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  9. I think people today need to thicken their skin a little.All this bullying hoop la is nuts.There were bullies in my day also they are a fact of life unfortunately it's in human nature.But most bullies are good a dishing it out but not very good at dealing with it if it gets thrown back at them. They thrive on intimidation.There was a kid in my school that had the rep of being a real bad ass bully and he singled me out in gym class and just tormented me.I wasn't a tuff guy by any definition of the word and I wasn't a fighter by any means but when we got in the locker room and he came up(after an hour of tormenting me)and pulled my gym shorts down I swung at him and gave him a bloody nose. He didn't know what happened and didn't know how to respond and everyone saw it.He was knocked of his bully pedestal that day.He never bullied anyone else and I was never bullied by anyone else.People can be cruel especially kids so what deal with it. If you feel like you got to kill yourself over it I'm thinking you will someday if not from being bullied but some other reason you will dream up.What ever happened to the saying "sticks and stones"? You better toughen up people because this world is getting ugly It's not anywhere near the world it was 30-40 years ago.I really hate seeing the changes I've witnessed,people getting self centered,and greedy and almost a complete loss of compassion.Someone talks S**t about you so what...bop him in the nose if it'll make you feel better and if they try to soil your reputation...PROVE them WRONG.Bullies are a fact of life as long as there are people there will be bullies and all the movements you have won't change that so grow a thicker skin and toughen up or go commit suicide because you don't have what it will take to get by in this new world that's emerging.Mark my words things are gonna get a lot worse before they even begin to get better.Get ready for it or get off the train.

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  10. The Patriot act gave the Federal Government the right to use illegal wire taps without a warrant or a judges signature. Geo.Bush passed that and Obama passed the law that allows the military to hold someone indefinitely without charges or trial or just make you disappear.He also gave himself the power to shoot our citizens with drones and to control all pour resources including food and water in peace time or in war as he see fit.What's wrong with this picture? Don't they teach the constitution in school anymore?It's time to wake up America!~

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  11. I am sorry but the Topix website goes way beyond with free speech means. It is almost 2015 and their numbers have dropped rapidly because of their lack of registration and moderation. That isn't something to completely celebrate though because those that have left libel and defame others even more. It is filled with racism, sexual predators, and people libeling others. It is a site for cowards plain and simple, hate for profit. I read one comment, that people should have thicker skin. Bullying and cyberbullying has contributed to numerous suicides. Not everyone sees the world like perhaps those of you with "thick skin" and people have a right to privacy. An opinion is one thing, libel is something else. When people go posting that their next neighbor is having an affair or doing drugs that can destroy the person's reputation and yes their life. For anyone to justify that is morally deplorable. I read the petition recently and I have to respectfully disagree with this article, that petition is one of the better anti-cyberbullying petitions I have ever seen on the internet.

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    1. Yes, I changed my original opinion after giving thought and consideration to the responses of my readers. I don't always change my mind, but I do try to listen and weight the arguments of others. Thanks for writing.

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