Friday, December 14, 2007

'I'm not white trash'

Via The Fort Worth Star Telegram:

FORT WORTH -- Britney Self was shocked when she learned this week that an anonymous posting on a Web site described her and her husband as "inbred white trash losers," the "worst neighbors on the planet" and "something out of an intervention show."

Now Self and her husband, Kyle -- the churchgoing parents of two young children who live in a nice house on a quiet street, with neighbors who say they like them -- are wondering who hates them so much to post such vitriol on the Internet.

Nobody is fessing up in the Selfs' neighborhood in far north Fort Worth.

The detractor's identity will probably never be known because he or she chose to remain anonymous on

With more than 75 million hits and 100,000 postings since its inception last summer, takes advantage of the Internet's lax regulations against defamation, a legal expert said, allowing people to say just about anything they want about someone else without the threat of being sued.

"They leave their **** dog outside barking at all hours of the day and night ... Are these people DEAF ... No i won't put down the deaf community by clasing them with these folks," said the message, posted by someone identified only as "damnbarkingdogs." It ended by again calling the Selfs "losers."

The comments struck a nerve with Britney Self, a petite 21-year-old mother of two sons, ages 1 and 3. "That's ridiculous for them to make accusations like that," she said. "I'm not white trash. ...

"Yes, my dog barks. She's a puppy," Self said, noting that everybody else's dog in the neighborhood barks, too.

In contrast to the posting on, neighbors' assessment of the family was nothing but positive. Lori Clark, who lives across the street, said Britney and Kyle Self seem "really nice."

"I didn't even realize they had a dog," Clark said.

Next-door neighbor Sylvia Hallerman added: "I think that's kind of ugly for people to anonymously rant against them."

The site is meant only as an avenue for people to vent against their unruly neighbors, without the awkwardness of actually confronting them, said Brant Walker, the site's 27-year-old founder.

"I first got the idea when we moved into our new apartment. I noticed we had a pretty bad smell coming from our neighbor's apartment right next door," said Walker, who works as an online marketer for a drug rehabilitation center in San Diego.

There is nothing provided on to back up the posted allegations. And in some cases, like the one involving the Selfs, the subjects of the written attacks are identified and their addresses disclosed. Such a practice, Walker said, is something "we do not encourage" but don't prohibit.

Other diatribes posted on described people as "whores," "perverts," "meanies," "real asses" and "psycho woman."

Walker said that people who feel they have been wrongly judged can "flag" the posting and, after a review, it may be deleted. Asked about people described as "whores" on the site, he said: "In most cases, that probably would not be appropriate and would be deleted."

Unlike magazines and newspapers, whose content is tightly regulated by libel laws, Internet service providers are largely granted immunity from defamation claims, said Walker, citing provisions in the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996. Only "third-party" contributors -- such as the anonymous posters sending the ugly messages to -- are held responsible for what they write, he said.

"It's quite true," said David Anderson, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

"The Internet provider, or anyone else who just furnishes a Web site or a forum for one person to defame another, is entirely immune under this statute," said Anderson, an expert in media law.

"I think the Internet service providers pulled the wool over the eyes of Congress for passing this statute," he said. "Congress needs to revisit the matter and narrow this protection."

And in the case of the person who called Britney and Kyle Self "white trash losers," Anderson said: "If you can't find out who it is, you can't sue them."

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