A waitress, Pheobe Best, said that the site had provoked fights and caused divorces. The diner’s owner, Jim Deverell, called Topix a “cesspool of character assassination.” And hearing the conversation, Shane James, the cook, wandered out of the kitchen tense with anger. His wife, Jennifer, had been the target in a post titled “freak,” he said, which described the mother of two as, among other things, “a methed-out, doped-out whore with AIDS.” Not a word was true, Mr. and Ms. James said, but the consequences were real enough. Friends and relatives stopped speaking to them. Trips to the grocery store brought a crushing barrage of knowing glances. She wept constantly and even considered suicide. Now, the couple has resolved to move.Sulzberger writes that the concerns about Internet bullying and privacy are familiar, "but in small towns there are complications. The same Web sites created as places for candid talk about local news and politics are also hubs of unsubstantiated gossip, stirring widespread resentment in communities where ties run deep, memories run long and anonymity is something of a novel concept."
UPDATE: The story quotes Christian Sandvig, an associate professor in communication and media at the University of Illinois, as saying “Something about rural culture seems to make people want to have conversations in public.” But on the Huffington Post, Sandvig writes, “There are problems. Yet it's not clear to me that these are rural problems.” And the Daily Yonder says the Times should have noted Speak Your Piece, a feature of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., in which anonymous, phoned-in comments are published after being filtered by the weekly's staff.
Topix has found "an unexpected niche in communities of a few hundred or few thousand people — particularly in what Chris Tolles, Topix’s chief executive, calls 'the feud states.' One of the most heavily trafficked forums, he noted, is Pikeville, Ky., once the staging ground for the Hatfield and McCoy rivalry."
That's about enough, Mr. Tolles. You and your newspaper paymasters (Gannett Co., the McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co.) are hereby invited to take your foul product out of rural America. And perhaps newspapers in towns where Topix draws many readers should ask themselves if that's partly because they don't turn over enough rocks and/or run vigorous editorial pages that inspire responsible debate.