One of my new favorite hobbies is reading the comment sections of news stories on local newspapers’ websites. In particular I am infatuated with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel comment sections, as I have been reading their site regularly for Walker-related updates. Generally speaking, though, I’ve found that the comments get more amazing in inverse proportion to the size of the newspaper. Sheboygan Daily Haystack > Journal-Sentinel > Wall Street Journal.
We all know that internet comment sections tend to be a crapshoot, from excellent on low-volume blogs to soul-crushing on megasites like YouTube, Yahoo News, and so on. I continue to maintain that YouTube comments are where hope for humanity goes to die. At least we can reassure ourselves that many YouTubers are children; on AOL/Yahoo type news items they are adults, legally if not mentally.
As I read through Journal-Sentinel comments – consider this excellent thread on the Walker-fake Koch prank call story – I am preoccupied with the same question: Who are these people? I mean, what is the profile of a person who sits around all day posting comments on the poorly trafficked website of a local newspaper?
In my mind I break this demographic down into three categories:
1. The elderly. Having finally figured out how to work the internets but not how to make their children call them to listen to inane ranting, they direct said ranting at what they imagine to be a large audience that treats their words with the reverence due true wisdom.
2. Shut-ins. I picture a 475 pound laid-off welder at a screen door factory in Menominee, WI running the electricity in his double-wide off a hotwired pile of stolen truck batteries, furiously pounding away at the keyboard on his 2002-vintage Gateway Internet PC. Mountains of anger, rage, and misspelling incarnate.
3. Fat-assed suburban right wingers posting from their cubicles at Midstate Office Supply about how lazy union workers are. The irony of being on the clock at work while wasting hours on end on the internet – stealing, in essence – does not occur to them. Many of them are fundamentalists and not terribly bright, and fundamentalism + stupidity = complete inability to appreciate irony.
I feel like there is something I’m missing. But seriously, this is worth repeating: Who are these people???