Boston Globe reporter Neil Swidley has an excellent story in this weekend's paper profiling some of the publication's website's top anonymous commenters. Swidley reveals that while recruiting commenters to come forward and "out" themselves for the story, he only heard back from a select few who wished to be featured. The "trolls," Swidley said, remain underground. The piece gives a behind-the-scenes look at who some of these aggressive and often verbose rabble rousers are, and what they take away from participating in the comment section below stories.
Swidley investigates the "online community" that has developed for many of the paper's readers, and profiles the types of people who are drawn to this community. In some ways, the commenters are what you'd expect -- conservative, retired, opinionated, but in other ways they may surprise you with how cordial and civilized they can be when not getting riled up about topics like immigration. Perhaps equally unsurprising is that the story itself has generated buzz in the comments section (174 to date), an ideal spot for the debate over these commenters' place and purpose. Here, a rundown of the different types of reactions that now accompany the story:
frankfurters wrote: "I post occasionally but rarely read all the comments. There's a lot of angry, uneducated and ignorant people out there, and the scariest part of it all is that they can, and do, breed."
Registeredindependent wrote: "Comments give you a feel for where you stand on an issue - with the minority or majority. Surprisingly, often the more conservative view seems to predominate... even on the Globe! Without the comments I wouldn't bother reading the Globe at all."
mmckenn wrote: "The Globe and other papers allow posting because they fear the internet and loss of readership. The posts attract people to the site no matter the reason and the paper encourages it. Articles about posting are designed to attract even more attention to it."
Someone1901 wrote: "I found it interesting that the author did not look at American history for reasons behind anonymity. There is a reason that Ben Franklin wrote letters as Silence Dogood. I would venture that some people would prefer not be the target of government or personal investigation while still feeling like they can express their opinion while holding out hope of potentially swaying a few people to a different line of thinking."
GoggleBoy wrote: "What's on the mind of the anonymous online poster? Ego, plain and simple. It's a place where anyone can be an internet tough guy, because there is no face-to-face communication."
SophwickCamelMillSt wrote: "Hi. I am a whack-job. Listen to me."
To read the article and to review the comments, go to The Boston Globe.
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