Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal have asked the community news and discussion Web site Topix.com for additional information about a $19.99 fee that consumers pay for "priority review" of inappropriate posts.
But Chris Tolles, the CEO of Topix, accused the pair of grandstanding and intimidation and insists that his site operates with appropriate and timely oversight.
The two attorneys general complained about "false and defamatory information about children, as well as adults" that has been posted on Topix, available at both Topix.com and Topix.net.
In a letter to Tolles dated Thursday, the two wrote that the Web site's forums "appear to operate without moderators and contain obscene, vulgar and abusive posts, often concerning minors."
Topix, based in Palo Alto, Calif., includes local news, message boards and polls.
Tolles fired back after a reporter contacted him seeking comment and e-mailed him a copy of Conway's press release along with the letter.
"That's grandstanding, that's what it is," Tolles said of the material from Conway and Blumenthal, who is chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General Multistate Task Force on Internet Safety. "This is not a reasonable inquiry for information."
He said the letter and news release angered him because it accused his company "of running a shakedown service." Tolles said that the vast majority of posts taken down are removed via the standard review process and that consumers have three methods they can use to seek review of a post: flagging a post for abuse; filing feedback with Topix, with specific information about a post's contents; or paying $19.99 to "jump the queue" for priority processing of a complaint.
Though review times vary — Tolles said that the backlog for standard review now is four days and that those complaints seeking priority review are processed within a business day — Topix is extensively monitored, Tolles said, and is working within the terms of its Web site and as a purveyor of the free press.
"This is clearly designed to be intimidation," he said of the Conway-Blumenthal letter.
The letter from the attorneys general said: "Although Topix claims to monitor its site for inappropriate content, it appears that the feedback system Topix has put in place is actually designed to maximize Topix' revenue from the 'priority review' feedback options, rather than providing other effective tools to properly monitor its site for and remove posts that violate its terms of service."
The McClatchy Company, the parent company of the Herald-Leader, became owner of an 11.25 percent stake in Topix when McClatchy bought Knight Ridder in 2006.