Tripod, which lets people create personal home pages, routinely polices its online community for sites that may host content that violates its terms of service. If Tripod, owned by Internet service Terra Lycos, receives a complaint by another member or finds material on someone's page deemed in violation, the service can pull the site.
Tripod spokeswoman Dorianne Almann said the company's computer systems had been removing member pages that were in violation of its terms of service. Unfortunately, many other sites that were not violating the agreement were swept away as well. These sites will be restored onto the service in 24 hours to 48 hours.
"These members were not removed on purpose," Almann said. "I'm guessing it was a software hiccup."
Almann would not say how many sites were erroneously removed.
Nevertheless, conspiracy theories abounded. Some CNET News.com readers sent e-mails saying Tripod was specifically targeting pages containing fan fiction--the practice of writing characters from movies, plays or TV programs into someone's own plot.
"They are, without warning, revoking accounts for Web sites that mention fan fiction or link to sites with fan fiction, under the guise of copyright violations," one concerned fan wrote to News.com.
Almann said the clean out was not targeted at fan-fiction pages. Rather, the true targets had violated the company's member conduct guidelines, which bar people from sending spam, posting child pornography, or selling their own advertisements, among 38 total restrictions.
Tripod parent Terra Lycos is not the only company to police its service. AOL Time Warner's America Online also has paid staffers who roam the service for terms-of-service violators. But typically, AOL members alert staffers to areas possibly violating the service agreement.
"Because of size and scope of service, we do depend on members to bring that to our attention," said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein.
Tripod uses employees to police the site and also depends on other members to alert it to potential violators.