This week’s episode of This American Life featured a story about Gene Cooley of Blairsville, Georgia, a microscopic town of approximately 600 residents. There’s not much to do in Blairsville but talk about the neighbors, and the best way to do that anonymously is on Topix, a website featuring message boards devoted to small communities like Blairsville. After Gene’s fiancee was murdered by her jealous ex-husband, the Topix rumor mill went into overdrive. What began as idle gossip escalated into vicious slander. Five or so Topix users were particularly brutal, accusing Cooley of being a pedophile, drug addict, philanderer, and pervert that shouldn’t be trusted around children.
Gene had never heard of Topix before he became a target of some of its users on the Blairsville message board. Attempts to discover their identities were futile, and he had no enemies that he knew of.
The gossip took its toll and Gene became a pariah; shunned by people he had known all of his life.… Read the rest