What Happened to Swamplot Comments — and Some Apologies

Over the weekend, a series of 8 inflammatory comments were posted to this website and remained visible to readers for as long as an hour before they were noticed and removed. Efforts to fight comment spam and abuse aren’t unusual or ordinarily newsworthy. These comments, however, were notable because they directly insulted and threatened a Harris County judge who has been assigned to hear a legal complaint filed against Swamplot. The comments appear to have been an attempt to fool readers unfamiliar with this site into believing that the threats and insults were coming from particular Swamplot readers who comment here frequently, or from people familiar to our editorial staff. To be clear: The comments did not come from anyone associated with this site — or sympathetic to it.


This weekend’s comment-spoofing incident follows another incident that occurred earlier this month, in which 2 bizarre and similarly inflammatory comments appeared at the end of a story for a matter of minutes before they were spotted and removed. Later the same week, Swamplot was named in a lawsuit (along with a third party whom the plaintiffs mistakenly claim to be involved in Swamplot’s editorial function). The lawsuit alleges that Swamplot is liable for “offensive and unlawful content posted on the site,” namely those same 2 comments. Swamplot obviously did not create those comments. Swamplot denies any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit appears to be an effort to stifle speech on issues of public concern, and to infringe Swamplot’s First Amendment rights. Fortunately, the claims asserted against Swamplot in the litigation are prohibited by both state and federal law. Still, defending itself in a lawsuit will cost Swamplot money — and that appears to be the point of the exercise.

As a result of these incidents, we’ve had to make some immediate changes. Until a better solution can be put in place, all comments will be moderated. Swamplot does not edit reader comments, but those that do not contribute to public discourse or debate will not appear. We’ll try to screen comments as quickly as possible, but we appreciate your understanding for any delays.

And now, a few important apologies. First: To the honorable judge, we sincerely apologize for the heinous, repugnant, and vile comments that were briefly posted to this site. Because of the nature of those comments, we intend to forward them, along with identifying details, to law enforcement. To anyone who saw the comments or had versions sent to them, we are deeply sorry for what you had to witness. (And we’d appreciate it if you didn’t pass them on further.) For any of you who might have come under the impression that this site somehow endorsed those comments, or that they were the creations of regular Swamplot readers or writers or any of our many fans — and not an attacker with malicious and deceptive intent — please accept our apology. To the regular Swamplot commenters who were impersonated in this or the previous attack, please understand that was not this site’s doing, and that we are working to prevent any similar occurrences from happening again.

Swamplot is a popular and award-winning local website. There may be occasional hiccups along the way, but we’re proud of our efforts to promote free, open, and entertaining discussion of the built and natural landscape of this city. To our many fans who’ve already lent us support and sympathy over the course of these troubling incidents, we are truly grateful.

53 Comment

  • I wasn’t aware that you could be sued for inflammatory comments posted to a site you maintain. That’s kind of ridiculous.

    I wish you the best of luck, Swamplot.

  • So let me get this straight:

    1) Post insane comments to a website which you’ve never posted at before
    2) Sue because you posted offensive comments
    3) ???
    4) Profit?

    Seriously? What kind of moron thinks this is a good business model?

    (Thoughts are my own and in no way represent Swamplot, the Swamplot community, advertisers nor the management staff. Thank you)

  • Wow. This is terrible. I wish you the best of luck in the months to come. :(

  • Keep up the great work. Swamplot has contributed greatly to Houston. And I check it every day!

  • You can’t. Safe harbor laws protect against it.

    Well, I mean, you can be sued for anything, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win. From above:

    “Still, defending itself in a lawsuit will cost Swamplot money — and that appears to be the point of the exercise.”

  • YOu can be sued for anything, but I believe the law protects Swamplot in this regard. Unfortunately they will still have to go to court and prove before a judge that they are protected in this case.

  • Sorry to hear about this guys…hope you get it all straightened out soon.

  • That’s unfortunate. Had I really had bedbugs, we could have saved a few in a plastic bag and released them on the wrong-doers. There’s really no better justice.

  • Geez. I had no idea any of this happened. I’m very sorry you have to go through all this. Best of luck for a swift and successful resolution.

  • Given the relative anonymity of comments (I assume the most you can know about a commenter is his or her IP address), it would be absurdly easy for the enemy of a blog to sabotage it by posting threatening or libelous comments under assumed handles from public computers. Hence the unfortunate need for comment moderation.

    I wish you the best of luck, Swamplot.

  • Christopher, it’s been well established that you can’t. See the DiMeo vs. Tucker Max case: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/27/max_dimeo_lawsuit/

    (I am not a lawyer.)

  • It would be a HUGE help, and be rather simple, to implement a user registration system. Then at least someone has to put some effort into making a comment. And even if they said something stupid, at least they couldn’t pretend to be another user.

  • Thank you Gus!!

    I knew we’d hear from you and I truly do hope the ‘other guys’ get what is coming to them.

    Apparently, some folks are really stupid.

  • Wow. Scary stuff. Glad to see the law is on your side. Did you catch the person’s IP address? If they really did threaten a judge, I betcha you could get their name pulled from their ISP (Internet Service Provider)

  • I just finished reading the lawsuit, and it is completely ridiculous. The judge is a good judge who takes his duty very seriously, and I would bet he tells the plaintiffs to get the hell out of his courtroom.

    Swamplot should countersue for malicious prosecution.

  • Such is the nature of the world we live in today where the systems are in place that allow so-called “victims” to prey on the success of others when they are unable to succeed in life themselves.

    It is some comfort…in my years of life on this planet…I have seen over-and-over…THE KARMA HAMMER NEVER MISSES.

  • hang in there GUS!

  • You need a “Lawyer Fund” Paypal button!

    This attempt to silence you guys seems insidious… Fake posts by regulars? Involving the judge in the case? Someone has been doing their research, but hopefully everybody involved sees right through this. It’s obvious to even a casual reader such as myself that you guys got a little too close to the truth on some topic near and dear to the perpetrators’ hearts and they’re trying to do anything they can to take you guys down. What a shame. Houston needs more blogs like this!

  • I thought that stuff just didn’t sound right. I know there are few strong difference of opinions on swamplot (which is good) but those posts sounded intentionally over the top and fictional.

  • I think we should have a legal defense fundraiser. Complete with food trucks.

  • FYI: just a law student, not a lawyer, and everything I know is given for totally informational, not-actual-legal-advice purposes only, but I did study some of the Communications Decency Act this semester and my understanding is the law is on Swamplot’s side. Here’s a quote from a 2006 case from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas on this issue:

    “47 U.S.C. § 230(c )(1) states as follows:’No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’Through this provision, Congress granted most Internet services immunity from liability for publishing false or defamatory material so long as the information was provided by another party.” Prickett v. InfoUSA, Inc., 561 F. Supp. 2d 646, 650 (E.D. Tex. 2006) (internal citations omitted).

  • Good job, Gus. Swamplot is a class act and doesn’t deserve this nonsense.

  • Truth is the best defense.

  • A shame that the Robinhood folks have to keep spreading it further and further. I’m not sure what they intend to to achieve with all of this – as far as I can tell, the more lawsuits pile up, the more likely someone is to -not- want to buy a condo there. But, I guess they like bad publicity.

    Best of luck Gus, I hope that the courts handle things judiciously and quickly to avoid creating -even more- unnecessary expense on your part.

  • Gus-

    Keep up the good work, your site is fantastic.

  • Its always disappointing when someone abuses the justice system to try and win purely on the basis of the procedure rather than because they actually have a case. More so here when the actions of one or more rogue individuals have the effect of necessarily stifling a valuable and enjoyable forum for the community. I shall be curious to see where the authorities manage to track the source to. Good luck putting this behind you soon Gus.

  • Yet another argument for the loser-pays system.

  • I second the suggestion for user registration. It wouldn’t stop all abuse, but it would at least make it more difficult to post under false pretenses.

  • A few days ago, the Lege passed an anti-SLAPP bill. (http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2011/may/07/5-7_editorial/) Unfortunately, it won’t become law in time to be of use in this case, I think.

  • Someone hijacked usernames and made inflammatory postings in one of the old Hans’s/Robinhood articles. Sounds like the same thing here.

  • Surely among the legions of swamplot fans there are some lawyers who need some pro bono hours.

  • CultureMap had an interesting article on this issue last week. And some interesting comments as well…..


  • After winning, you need to countersue to recoup your legal expenses.

  • Gus, that’s a great idea. Put up a banner “Are you a lawyer, or do you know one, that would help Swamplot?”.
    You’d for sure get some replies.
    There is a tenant I’m trying to get rid of. Normally I do my own evictions (or have one of my property managers do it), but due to the circumstances this person requires a lawyer. I e-mailed the subdivision where the apartment building is to see if anyone there could help (since this person is more of a bother to them than me personally).
    Now, while I haven’t gotten anyone to help (so they’ll be staying), I still think it’s a good idea – you have a billion times the reach :)

  • Looks like we will be hearing a lot less of Magic.


  • I cannot believe a member of the bar would bring this lawsuit. What an embarrassment.

  • I always miss the good stuff. By the way if someone used your “name” to post stuff, they can be sued as I understand it. Or even prosecuted. As for that hirise, well, you know how I feel about hirises and pretentious people…

  • But only if it is your real name (I think, at least). Is your last name Mystery, and your middle… Danger?

  • Wow. I had no idea this had happened. Good luck guys in your fighting the good fight.

  • Figure out those IP addresses and prosecute the bastards. Smells like a felony to me.

  • Registering to be able to post comments sounds like a good idea. It won’t get rid of the idiots, but at least they won’t be able to use someone else’s name.
    Good luck with the suit.

  • Ian V,
    Thems good stuff(add pointless letters here).

  • I’m sorry you are having to deal with this. Swamplot is one of the few places where I do not fear reading the comments because even when they disagree they are for the most part well written and people act like grown ups.

    I second the idea of a chip in for legal defense.

  • Gus,

    Please add a paypal link so we can donate. Or, if you are looking for volunteers to assist in the cause, do let us know.

  • It’s very unfortunate that Swamplot has to deal with this situation, and as a religious reader of the site, I’m disheartened that someone would try to take advantage of an excellent Houston resource.

    I think asking for donations or help is a great idea, and many readers like myself would donate what they can to the cause.

    Best of luck, Gus, and keep us updated on the situation.

  • Whenever I go on vacation all hell breaks loose!

  • Put up that legal defense fund paypal button Gus, we love having you and this blog around, and I’d throw in some change if it would help.

  • Missed the kerfuffle, too. Sorry you’re having to deal with this kind of stress, Gus. Ditto on the defense fund.

  • I’m really sorry to hear about this Gus. Seriously set up that paypal for a legal fund.

  • We are gunning for you! You are a valuable part of this community and we will stand by you until this BS goes away.

    Meanwhile, Please don’t stop the good work!

  • So just who are the plaintiffs in the suit against Swamplot?

    That is, who EXACTLY?

    Surely that’s not privileged.
    Surely the plaintiffs don’t care who knows?

    I’d like to know.

  • Magic loves SWAMPLOT!!!!


  • Late to the party here, but sorry to hear you’re going through all of this. Good luck with everything and we love Swamplot. Houston wouldn’t be as cool without it!