Several Say They
But Topix CEO
Defends The Site
BY KEN LITTLE
Emotions run deep among those who say they have suffered the sting of slander or false statements posted on the Topix.com website.
At least 10 people who said they have been the target of untrue or misleading statements spoke up Thursday at a "town hall" meeting hosted by County Commissioner and state Representative candidate Ted Hensley and his campaign manager, Greeneville lawyer Robert L. Foster.
Foster is among four petitioners who asked for and received a court order last week to allow depositions to be taken from Topix, LLC officers, along with "other corporations, businesses, entities and individuals" in order to identify sources of damaging postings.
Third Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Wright granted the order on May 24.
Foster and the other petitioners, who said they had been targeted by false statements posted on Topix discussion threads, were at the meeting.
The three other petitioners are Bridgette Foster, Robert Foster's wife; Robbie Britton; and Karen Collins Ottinger.
The court order may be a precursor to a civil lawsuit against Topix, but Foster said financial gain is not the motivation of the petitioners.
"We're going to be addressing the issue of Topix.com and some of the damage it is causing in this community," he said.
Foster also announced the launch of a new social media website for Greene County citizens, citizenchatter.com.
He said it provides "safeguards" and a responsible alternative for citizens who aren't comfortable with what he said is the sometimes-harsh or vulgar content of Topix.com.
Unlike the Topix website, citizenchatter.com requires users to register before posting comments.
The site, operated by "concerned citizens" Foster and Britton, has numerous other features, including information on local government, Greeneville election races, other local elections, and links to Republican and Democratic party websites.
About 30 people attended the public meeting, held at a pavilion in Hardin Park.
Some are supporters of Hensley's bid for the seat currently held by Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, Greeneville.
Others said they were victims of what they characterized as damaging and untrue statements posted on Topix.
One woman was moved to tears as she described what she said were attacks against family members.
"The most important thing to me is my family, and when somebody does something to your family, it just does something to you," she said.
"I just don't feel like you are protected. You're helpless, [and] you can't do anything."
Another woman, who is a teacher, said she was shocked to find out what she said is being posted about some of her students on Topix.com
Usually, postings are anonymous, with those doing the posting using a "screen name."
"It is a trash website," she charged. "Not only do they trash families; they trash children. It's cyber-bullying, folks," she said. "I would do anything in my power to [eliminate] it."
Another woman said she believes in freedom of speech, "but if you put something on there about me, I have a right to know who's saying it."
Another person attending Thursday's meeting said she used to have a restaurant in Greeneville that was unfairly targeted on Topix.
"Some of the best people in town have been trashed by Topix," she said.
In a telephone interview this week with The Greeneville Sun, Topix CEO Chris Tolles defended the right of individuals to gossip about others.
"It is the local watering hole. Gossip happens there.
"We are willing to take things down [if] someone goes over the line, but we are not going to take things down just because it makes people uncomfortable," Tolles said.
'WORLD IS WATCHING'
Hensley said he wasn't aware of the controversial postings in Topix before the issue was brought to his attention by Foster and others.
Hensley went to the site and saw "silliness" in some of the threads. "But I saw something that is malicious, too," he added.
Americans are entitled to freedom of speech, but they also should have accountability, Hensley said.
Greeneville Topix postings are available for all to see when the name of the town is put into a search engine such as Google.
"If it's popping up early, this is a reflection on the community to the world," Hensley said.
"Every community has its dirty laundry. Does it need to be aired all over the world? That's my point."
Every citizen has "responsibilities," Hensley said.
"I believe this type of media can be used for the betterment of the community, not the detriment," he said.
One feature of citizenchatter.com is a poll that asks citizens what the five most important Greene County issues are to them.
The consensus of the group will determine which are the top five issues, which will then be posted in separate discussion threads, Foster said.
"It is a phenomenal tool to take our county forward," Foster said about citizenchatter.com.
The ongoing discussion about Topix content merited a public meeting such as the one hosted by Hensley, Foster said.
"It's an issue that is worthy of a state Representative," he said. "Sometimes, if you can just make people pay attention, you can accomplish a lot of good."