McSweeney’s profiles the Web’s anonymous commenters

NPR / McSweeney’s

Some people actively avoid reading the anonymous comments attached to online websites. Kevin Collier seeks them out.

NPR’s Guy Raz reports that Collier has been tracking anonymous online commenters for the online journal McSweeneys.com and creating character sketches of some of the most prolific.

Raz asked Collier what drives Web commenters:

” ‘Some people just need to be heard,” Collier says. ‘A lot of people just have an urge to talk.’

And sure, there are plenty of rude and downright offensive commenters out there. It’s easy to throw your hands up in despair and assume they reflect an eroding American discourse, he says.”

Collier, so far, has collected 11 profiles at McSweeny’s and they are fascinating to read in aggregate. What is striking is, even anonymously, a picture of each commenter as a real, though sometimes odd, person does emerge. That reality is something editors often shortchange when moderating comments.

Requiring real, or at least verified, identities in a comments section is an appropriate policy choice. But, the growing vilification of commenters, and the failure to properly value and invest in creating productive reader communities, is an industry failing that can and should be reversed.

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