Privacy Law

Topix Gets About One Subpoena a Day for Email Addresses of Anonymous Commenters

The social media website Topix allows anonymous posters to comment, critique and kvetch. But their identities don’t always remain secret.

Topix receives about one subpoena a day seeking the computer addresses of anonymous commenters, the New York Times reports. Sometimes the subpoenas are issued as part of police investigations; sometimes they are the result of civil libel suits by people targeted in the comments. Some suits have resulted in damage awards and settlements, the story says.

Topix used to charge for the expedited removal of anonymous comments, but that ended after a challenge by more than 30 state attorneys general. The policy “smacked of having to pay a fee to get your good name back,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway told the Times.

Despite the change in policy, the website is causing problems in small towns “where ties run deep, memories run long and anonymity is something of a novel concept,” the story says. Topix is becoming increasingly popular in the rural South, including the Ozarks and Appalachia.

In Hyden, Ky., for example, posts accused a dental employee of being a home wrecker with herpes, and a gas station attendant of being a drug dealer. In Mountain Grove, Mo., one woman said she decided it was time to move away after someone posting at Topix called her “a methed-out, doped-out whore with AIDS.”

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