One of the most divisive and controversial forms of social media is no more. Topix, the internet site that allowed sickos, troublemakers and muckrakers to post anything they wanted anonymously, has been shut down by the owner.
Okay, I’ve gotten that off my chest, and you know how I feel about it. In short, Topix was a cesspool and many of the folks who took part fit right in.
I was never a fan of Topix. I saw so many people slandered and drug through that cesspool by jerks who were brave, high and mighty as long as their name didn’t accompany their claim.
Obviously, everyone in Topix land wasn’t that way. People used it to swap information about everything from health issues to the local sports team, and there are times when anonymity comes in handy for a whistleblower. But on Topix, it was often impossible to tell fact from fiction, truth from lies and just who out there was using it to destroy, avenge or hurt someone or something.
We all know someone who has been hurt by the sharp sword of gossip. Topix hurt people. Topix hurt communities, including ours. The Bible in Proverbs says, “With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors.” And that was long before the internet made it easier.
Even if allegations are true, a public forum such as Topix isn’t the place to remedy anything. As momma used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” She could have taken it a step further and said, “If you can’t say anything nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all, but by all means if you do say something, have the guts to publicly stand up for what you believe.”
Topix was shut down in December, but the word just filtered to me last week. I checked the site to make sure it was so. As you might have assumed, I was no regular on the forum. I am no pillar of self-righteousness, but I visited Topix three times, twice at the urging of good friends who were being blasted on it, and once when I was blasted. Here’s my Topix story. . .
When you are a newspaper person you need to have thick skin, and you also need to tell the truth and search out the truth. Sometimes people don’t like that. So, what better way to get back at a newspaper person than go to Topix, and under the cloak of anonymity, lob a few false bombshells. That was the case a dozen or so years ago. The offending party wasn’t so much attacking me as they were the newspaper, so it riled me up a bit more.
Most of us by now realize that there is no such thing as being anonymous on the internet. But back in those days, a coward could wreak havoc if they wanted to. Or so they thought.
Anyway, I called an associate of mine who knows the internet like the back of his hand. Within 10 minutes or so he provided me with the IP address, name and location of the liar who was spreading the lies.
Within 10 minutes of my friend’s call, I had gotten the phone number of the liar and called them.
I started off by introducing myself, and for a full 15 seconds there was no response on the other end of the call.
“Uhhhhhhhhh, well, what can I do for you?” they finally asked.
“Uhhhhhhhhh, well, for starters you can take your lies off Topix,” I answered.
Another 15 seconds of silence.
I realized what must be going through their mind – public embarrassment or maybe a lawsuit – so I broke the silence.
“Look,” I said, “I have no idea why you or a lot of other people tell lies on Topix, but as of about a minute ago I am certain you realize it isn’t as easy to hide behind your computer as you think it is. Just take this crap off the internet and this story will end. And don’t do it again.”
“I will,” they said.
Then I hung up the phone.
Everyone has experienced the harm of gossip before, whether it is true or false. But these days, gossip isn’t always a handful of busybodies on the phone, it can go viral in your backyard and beyond through sites similar to Topix. There are still places you can go on the internet to hide yourself and deliver your vile message, but I’d advise against it. I’d also advise not going to those sites to read the gossip and slander, willingly taking part in the cesspool, polluting your mind and giving people a forum to seek and destroy and bully.