Topix to stop charging for fast review of troll complaints

The news and discussion website enters into an agreement with 34 state attorneys general

News and discussion website Topix.com has agreed to stop charging users US$19.99 to expedite the review of abusive or inappropriate posts, after 34 state attorneys general complained about the practice.

Topix, a six-year-old website based in Palo Alto, California, will review all reports of abuse on the site free of charge, under the agreement announced Monday by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. The company will also seek to review and remove inappropriate posts within three working days, instead of the seven to 14 days it previously took, Conway said in a press release.

Topix has also agreed to remove the flagging option for reporting abuse posts. The flagging option was confusing for customers, because it required multiple users to flag a post before it was reviewed, Conway said. That policy led customers to believe posts were being reviewed when they weren't, he said.

"On behalf of the numerous parents, public officials and concerned citizens who have contacted me about Topix, I am pleased that we've been able to reach an agreement with the company to put a stop to the 'pay-to-police' policy on the message board to expedite removal of abusive posts," Conway said in a statement. "I appreciate the cooperation of Topix and look forward to continuing to work with the company to ensure that Kentuckians, particularly our kids, are not being harmed by harassing and abusive posts."

Topix receives 40,000 feedback comments from users each month, said CEO Chris Tolles. Officials at the company thought the charge for an expedited review of a complaint was useful to users, but there was some confusion about the practice, he said. Some users thought Topix was charging to remove abusive comments, when that was not the case, Tolles said.

"The easiest thing for us to do was to talk to [the attorneys general] and come to a resolution, which included removing that from our services," Tolles said. "There are things I feel strongly about -- this is not one of them."

The attorneys general did not accuse the site of anything illegal and did not threaten lawsuits, Tolles said.

Under the agreement, Topix agreed to consult with the attorneys general on any continuing concerns, and it agreed to explore new technologies and processes for preventing misuse of the site.

Consumers can report abusive posts through links on Topix.dom. If abusive posts are not removed within three working days, users can file a report with the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General at topixcomplaints@ag.ky.gov.

Among the attorneys general who joined the agreement are officials from Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.

Topix users generate 130,000 posts per day, Tolles said. The site links news from 50,000 online sources to 360,000 user-generated forums. Newspaper companies Gannett, The McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. have investments in the site.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags governmentregulationinternete-commerceTribune Co.Jack ConwayTopix.comChris TollesKentucky Office of the Attorney GeneralGannettThe McClatchy Co.

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