Popular Web Forum Forced to Stop Charging Customers to Expedite Review of Abusive Postings

34 state Attorneys General have reached an agreement with website Topix.com to improve the site's handling of abusive and inappropriate posts, including banning the site from charging users a $19.99 fee to expedite the review of their complaints. This settlement comes in response to consumer outcry over Topix's handling of abusive posts, especially those targeting minors.

Topix is an online forum organized around local communities. Users can post content and news stories to the website that is organized by that user's city or town, and other users can view and comment on the topic. According to the Attorneys General, Topix is the largest platform for local forums in the U.S. with over 125,000 user-generated posts per day.

In a joint statement issued by Topix CEO, Chris Tolles, and signed by 34 state Attorneys General, Topix agreed to make several changes to the way its website functions. Topix has agreed to (1) remove the $19.99 fee for "priority review" of user complaints making all reviews free of charge; (2) increase the turnaround on review of reported posts from 7-14 days to 3 days; (3) make clearer disclosures regarding how Topix handles complaints; (4) create a special direct relationship with law enforcement to provide a prompt response to law enforcement investigations into unlawful activity on the website; and (4) continue to work closely with the Attorneys General on improving responsiveness to abuse reports.

Eliminating the "pay to police" policy was clearly of particular concern. All of the Attorneys General voiced concern for the protection of minors, and a disdain for charging for that service. "Our agreement eliminates a pay-to-police policy that Topix ultimately realized was unfair to victims of abusive posts. Stopping harassment should be a right -- not a paid service -- and I applaud Topix for recognizing its responsibility to respond to such reports," was a quote from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, one of the lead investigators in this matter.

TIP: This agreement highlights a growing pressure on online companies who host user-generated content, and the steps that should be taken to police this content for abusive and offensive material.

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