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Reality Check: Fighting back against cyber bullies

WINCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - They are called cyber bullies. With little regard for the truth, they post comments online.

According to its website, Topix.com gets more than 100,000 comments a day. While most are thoughtful comments, some of those targeted call them gossip, lies, and just plain hate.

Now, one Kentucky woman is fighting to reveal the identity of her online attackers.

It's been more than a year since 9-year-old Whitt Goff died on the country road where he lived.

"He was with three other kids, older kids riding and they were in the back yard. They were going to my neighbors dirt-bike track to ride," said Whitt's mom, Kelly Goff.

But at some point in that trip the group ended up riding on Elkin Station Road and Whitt would never ride home.

The Clark County sheriff says the driver of a pickup truck hauling a lawn mower lost control and slammed into Whitt's dirt bike, killing him.

"Just seeing 9-year-old boy killed was hard enough," Goff said.

She would soon have a new reason to worry. Within days of Whitt's death friends began to tell her about posts on Topix.com that discussed her son's death.

Goff says she ignored the chatter for seven months.

"One sleepless night, everyone had been telling me not to look but I wanted to see what was said," she told WKYT's Victor Puente.

What she found was hundreds of posts discussing the crash that killed her son, and the speculation as to why it happened. The hardest to read were the posts blaming Goff directly for her son's death. The posts included, "They brought it on themselves" and "If his parents paid more attention to keeping their kids safe and less attention to their bottles of beer ... there's a good chance little Whitt would still be alive."

"I can take a lot, but if it involves my children and how I raise my children, that's offensive," she said.

Goff is one of many Kentuckians who have found out the hard way that they were the topic of discussion on that same website.

The Kentucky Attorney General's office gets so many complaints they've put instructions on their website telling people how to get posts removed.

One reason people seem to keep having issues with Topix is how easy it is to remain anonymous. When people post on other online sites such as Facebook or Twitter they usually identify themselves but on Topix all you have to put in is a username when you post.

"They brought me copies down here and i read over them. It's very degrading, derogatory statements," said Susanne Gullet who owns The Elephant's Trunk.

She says she doesn't even have the internet at her home, like Goff it was friends who clued her in to what was being said about her Nicholasville store where she's sold used children's clothes for the past eight years.

"They said that I'm selling cocaine out of the shop, that I'm prostituting out the back door," Gullet said.

She says the rumors, no matter how outrageous, have affected her business.

"There's been days that I've come in here and I've gotten so frustrated I've just sit down and cried," she said.

But the anonymity enjoyed by so many Topix users has its limits. Earlier this year a Texas couple was awarded more than $13,000,000 after suing Topix users who had defamed them.

"If people are held accountable, if they know something can come back on them they may watch their words," Goff said.

Following the crash that killed her son, Kelly Goff's lawyer urged her to file suit against the people blaming her for her son's death.

The suit, if successful, would force Topix to give Goff the identities of the people talking about her. Those users could then face damages for libel and slander. Goff says even if she wins, collecting that money could be difficult but revealing the identities of those users would be worth it.

"They should be ashamed and they're going to be held accountable for bashing a woman who had been through what I had been through, they should be ashamed," Goff said.

In 2010, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway worked with attorney generals from across the nation to get Topix to drop its $19.95 fee for expedited removal of abusive comments. Conway's office says they've found that reported posts are now generally removed within 48 to 72 hours.


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