By Truman Lewis
ConsumerAffairs.com

May 17, 2010
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and 22 other state attorneys general are urging Internet message board host Topix.com to improve consumer protections and eliminate its $19.99 fee for priority review to eliminate abusive or inappropriate posts.

In a letter to Topix CEO Chris Tolles, Blumenthal and his colleagues expressed significant concerns with the Forums and Polls pages and the websites $19.99 fee to expedite review of inappropriate posts.

Topix.com, of Palo Alto, CA, describes itself as a top ten online newspaper destination, which encourages readers to post comments about news items or other matters of community interest. Topix LLC is a privately held company with major investments from Gannett Co., The McClatchy Company and Tribune Company.

Blumenthal said Topix should do more, and charge nothing, in exchange for enforcing its own terms of use intended to protect victims, particularly children, from online abuse.

We are calling on Topix to abandon its outrageous pay-to-police policy and I urge consumers to join us in telling Topix to stop exploiting pain and abuse on its site, Blumenthal said. Forcing victims to pay in exchange for promptly stopping abusive, obscene and harassing Internet posts is exploitive financial bullying. The perpetrators, not victims, should be charged this unconscionable fee for making false or abusive posts.

Topix earns a dime off of other peoples devastation -- making money from mistreatment when victims pay up to protect themselves or their children from online bullying and abuse. This backwards system must be stopped immediately to protect children and others -- as well as Topixs own reputation.

Our coalition is calling on Topix.com to do the right thing and stop a system that harms consumers twice -- first by the abusive poster and then by the unconscionable removal fee.

An initial investigation by Connecticut and Kentucky found that the Forums and Polls section of Topix is routinely used to post abusive, vulgar and obscene comments, often about children, in blatant violation of Topixs terms of service. The forums also appear to operate without moderators.

Blumenthal and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway first contacted Topix in February and asked that the website respond to their concerns and make changes. Topix proposed only minor changes, and failed to eliminate its pay-to-police fee.

Blumenthal and fellow attorneys general have asked Topix to:

• Eliminate the $19.99 fee for expedited review. Charging consumers $19.99 for an expedited review of abusive posts that violate the Topix Terms of Service is unconscionable. Topix should abandon the fee and develop alternative measures to screen and promptly remove abusive posts that violate their terms of service, including hiring additional personnel, if necessary, to timely review abuse reports.

• Improve disclosures regarding the feedback system. In addition to ending the $19.99 expedited review option from the flag abuse drop down link, Topix should make its feedback and flagging options more clear and concise so that consumers can understand how to protect themselves and their children.

• Reduce time for reviewing abuse reports. A 7-14 day turnaround time for reviewing abuse reports is inadequate. Topix should review complaints more promptly, as MySpace and Facebook have done -- within 72 hours for routine abuse reports and 24 hours for emergency reports.

• Improve screening of abusive posts. Abusive posts continue to dominate many of the forums. Topix should immediately revamp its technology to block improper posts and repeat offenders, and explore additional technological measures to block abusive and hateful posts before they are posted.

The attorneys general from the following states and jurisdictions have joined Connecticut and Kentucky in writing to Topix: Arizona, Arkansas, Guam, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, N. Mariana, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.