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For Immediate Release

Media Contact:
Raquel Guillory, 410-576-6357
rguillory@oag.state.md.us

Attorney General Gansler Urges Topix.Com to Abandon "Expedited Review" Fee

BALTIMORE, MD ( May 14, 2010) -Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today joined 22 other state attorneys general in 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, the Attorneys General expressed significant concerns with the “Forums and Polls” pages and the website’s $19.99 fee to expedite review of inappropriate posts.

Topix.com describes itself as a “top ten online newspaper destination,” which encourages readers to post comments about news items or other matters of community interest. An initial investigation 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 Topix’s terms of service. The forums also appear to operate without moderators.

The 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 one to two week 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.

“Topix should charge nothing in exchange for enforcing its own terms of use intended to protect victims, particularly children, from online abuse,” said Attorney General Gansler. “Targets of false, abusive or obscene posts are being victimized a second time by being charged a removal fee.”

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

 

   

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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