Anonymity isn’t license for free attacks

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 2, 2011

Speech may be free but defaming an individual — even when the perpetrator is hiding behind the shield of anonymity — can be costly indeed.

That is what a recent court case here in Lawrence County has established when it comes to personal attacks and libelous material posted on Internet websites such as Topix.

Although we remain staunch supporters of free speech and see value in allowing an electronic forum for discussion and debate, Topix is not that venue

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The Tribune and I have no love for the website because of the way its system is set up as well as the lack of safeguards and checks and balances.

The recent lawsuit that ended with a Lawrence County man being awarded more than $40,000 in damages is actually a positive precedent because it shows users that they can be held accountable for the things they write.

One important point is that Topix and The Tribune’s forums have virtually nothing in common. We go to great lengths to police the comments, remove those that violate our terms of use, eliminate posters who habitually break the rules and just generally keep the discussion civil.

Many people have been confused by the fact that The Tribune Company is listed as a shareholder of Topix. That is the company that owns the Chicago Tribune and others but has absolutely no affiliation with The Ironton Tribune, any of our other Lawrence County papers or our parent company.

Some will say that our forums allow people too much leeway. The important thing to remember is that this forum provides an open discussion area with comments that some perceive to be positive comments and that others perceive to be negative.

Ultimately, these comments are a reflection of our community. Comments critical of government, elected officials, community events, etc., are often allowed because they express a valid viewpoint, regardless of how you are I feel about them.

Freedom of speech is part of the bedrock group of rights that our nation was founded upon. But nothing is absolute and we, as Americans and citizens of our local communities, have to be held accountable for what we say and do.

That counts in the real world and the cyber one as well.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at