Hate, bigotry and ignorance abound in online comments

Pam Droog Jones

BY PAM DROOG JONES

I try very hard to avoid reading the comments in the online forum of my local newspaper, the Jefferson City News-Tribune, a proudly conservative publication that runs Bible quotes on its editorial page. But every week or two I feel the urge to check in on a particular bunch of posters who lie in wait for anyone whose comment may reveal him or her to be liberal, Democratic, left-leaning or even a moderate Republican. Then, like thugs in a dark alley, they pounce and denounce the commenter as a socialist, communist, leftist, pinko, lib, hater or traitor, and those are some of the nicer accusations.

Sometimes I even start to write a response to a remark that seems particularly arrogant, bigoted, mean-spirited or ignorant (or all of the above). But after a few sentences I stop and let my blood pressure return to normal.

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What’s remarkable to me is that hateful, uninformed and self-righteous commenters are everywhere. Visit any online forum at any newspaper in any market and you will find them spewing their nastiness—and dominating the so-called conversation. Sometimes they post so often you wonder, don’t they have jobs or lives? But obviously the anonymous forums, like those at the News-Tribune, give these individuals an outlet for their feelings of frustration and helplessness, where they can lash out without repercussions.

Eventually I expect my local newspaper—and most others—to follow the example of the Post-Dispatch which switched to Facebook comments in March. At the time the editors said they expected “the quality and readership of our comments will grow, even though the overall number of comments might drop.” As I read some of the comments at the Post-Dispatch—even with names and faces attached to them–and all the disrespectful variations on the name Barack Obama, I wonder about the first part of that statement; the second part seems to be true.