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Website 'for cowards' causes hurtful gossip in Mountain Grove, draws national attention

September 28, 2011|by Kevin Tibbles, NBC News

MOUNTAIN GROVE, Mo. -- It's been said that nothing travels faster than gossip.  Thanks in part to a community website, the gossip in this small town in the Ozarks has taken a decidedly nasty and public turn.

In small towns across the country, the local diner is where people go for a cup of coffee and a little gossip.  At Dee’s Place in Mountain Grove, Dee Deverell says gossip here has gone too far.

“It causes a lot of trouble,” Deverell said, calling it “nasty stuff.”

It’s so nasty that it became the subject of a story in the New York Times.  Some of the town's 4,000 residents have taken to using a website called Topix to dish their dirt.

“Well, they're cyber-terrorists, that's what I believe, they're cyber-terrorists," said Kevin Trantham, who was dining at Dee's Place on a recent day.

They post often-salacious accusations about others, and do it all anonymously, using phrases like “a meth'd-out, doped-out whore with AIDS.”

“It’s awful, and very untrue, very, very untrue," said Jennifer James.

After reading what James says is a bunch of lies about herself, she’s uncomfortable leaving her home.

“I hated to come into town and see people stare at me and give me looks, sometimes dirty looks. It felt like I was being talked about,” said James.

Lorraine Kusior, a former family counselor, now sees herself on Topix being described as running a sex club.

“I can't go anywhere without somebody saying, ‘You know, I read this about Topix and what's going on with you.’  I don't need to talk about my personal life with anybody,” said Kusior.

Topix says it’s the best place on the Internet to talk about your town, and stands by its decision to allow posters to remain anonymous.

“It's really important, especially in civic discourse in a small town, to be able to put your view across without being punished for it,” said Chris Tolles, chief executive officer of Topix, which is based in San Jose, Calif.

Tolles says his company does not condone personal attacks.

“We're not so happy about seeing things where people are talking smack about each other, and, when people inform us of things that go over the line, we take care of it,” he said.

Topix did remove all the hurtful postings about James but the damage has been done.

“I want to move.  I want to be out of here by the first of the year,” she said.

In this quaint and sleepy town, the mayor, who’s also been a target, says a handful of people are giving his town a bad name.

“Topix is a place for cowards that are afraid to stop you on the square and say 'I've got a problem with you,” said Mayor Delbert Crewse.

It’s left a lot of locals wishing those anonymous posters would just take their gripes to a table at Dee’s Place.

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