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Think you can be anonymous on the internet? Live in Texas? Think again.

Sick of anonymous accusations of sexual assault long after being found not guilty, a Texas couple is suing for the identity of 178 commenters at Topix.com who continued disparaging their reputation.

Mark and Rhonda Lesher were accused in 2008 of sexually assaulting a former client of Mark’s business, but were found not guilty in a criminal trial. An internet mob of posters at Topix.com, a community-focused news aggregator, did not accept the court’s findings and instead continued to disparage them online – expressing their remarks in over 70 different threads, totaling more than 1,700 posts.

The Leshers live “quietly” in Northeast Texas. Both run their own, separate, businesses: Mark runs a law firm while Rhonda runs a beauty salon.

William Pieratt Demond, who served as Lesher’s attorney, called the internet mob’s continued vitriol “a form of persecution.”

The mob’s accusations were “perverted, sick, and inhumane,” said Lesher. “It just ... basically made us both feel like common criminals … It's like someone had basically raped us of our reputation and our standing in the community over and over and over again.”

The Dallas Morning News reports that the comments take a wide variety of forms; including accusations that the Mark drugs women and that the couple has STDs.

A Tarrant County, Texas judge ordered the site to turn information on the posters’ identities by March 6.

Topix CEO Chris Tolles said that while his site goes through great effort to protect posters’ privacy, it will comply with court orders over accusations of libel that “appear reasonable.”

That being said, however, Topix is currently reviewing the subpoena before it decides precisely what to do. “We prefer to make sure requests are clear and specific and not overly broad,” said Tolles. “[We will not] simply hand over all of our records.”

Many forum threads at Topix.com can be found containing similar levels of vitriol, with a local section of the site giving front-page treatment to heated, incoherent threads on everything from religion to local gang members’ trash talk.

Internet commenters’ anonymity is generally protected throughout the United States, up and until their remarks become libelous. Ars Technica reports that the judge’s order goes against precedent, however, as similar cases in other states generally concluded in favor of anonymity.





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