Hein Do, owner of Grande Pizza in Tamaqua, wife Cam and son Donny, were suprised Saturday night to find out that they were the victims of an online libel attack that started a false fast-moving and widespread rumor which stated that one of them had passed away and was found under a Tamaqua bridge.
Over the past two days, residents living in and around Tamaqua were asking each other what happened to the body found under a Tamaqua bridge. Although the rumors varied slightly, the main points of the strong rumor were very similar. The rumor stated that officials found the dead or murdered shirtless body of either Hein or Donny Do in the Little Schuylkill River under the Cedar Street bridge.
A TIMES NEWS correspondent traced the source of the false rumor to a Friday night posting on the Topix.com website, an open forum website. The posting, some of which is too explicit to list here, also stated very explicit reasons for the death, as well naming a fictional eyewitness to the incident.
A second posting in the same forum and from the same user contained racial remarks and explicit sexual remarks.
Open forum websites are intended to be a venue in which people can interact online to find out about a specific issue, reach a resolution on a controversial subject, or interact with members of their communities. People who use online forum websites, such as Topix.com, are generally expected to behave politely, although they are welcome to disagree with each other. Violent words or actions are never condoned in an open forum website, but are difficult to police and enforce.
Tamaqua Police routinely spend time educating students concerning online bullying and such. Police state the easiest thing to do is to block specific websites via internet security and virus protection software.
Tamaqua Police Chief Dave Mattson, who was overwhelmed with calls concerning the rumor, mentioned that websites like these don't operate with enough responsibility. Hien and his wife Cam, who have been married since 1974 and have operated their restaurant in Tamaqua since 1983, aren't taking the incident personal, as Hien jokingly pointed out, "I'm still here making pizza and plan on being here for many years to come."
An anonymous person on Facebook stated, "This rumor is absolutely uncalled for. Whoever created it is an idiot. I don't find it funny what so ever. I am so glad it is a rumor. They are the friendliest people. It is sad that people have nothing better to do with their time."
The definition of libel is a printed defamation of somebody else's character. Online libel can take the form of blog posts, live journal posts, newsgroup discussions, websites, and much more. A Tamaqua citizen, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear for retaliation, stated, "Topix.com is routinely used by so many people to spread hate and hurtful remarks about various Tamaqua citizens, officials and our dedicated police officers. It is a terrible site and they should be sued for allowing this."
Almost any kind of online social or open forum media can be the source of libel. Libel is illegal, but it is often very hard to catch people who commit libel using the Internet. Anonymous proxy servers and other techniques allow these individuals to get away with these crimes. Although multiple reports and complaints were notably reported by a number of Tamaqua citizens to Topix.com concerning these postings, the libel posting still remained on their site as of Monday morning. Chief Mattson added, "When websites allow people to post anonymously, you're asking for trouble, as this makes it easier for people to make hurtful or untruthful statements."