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.