Since the posts from Monday and Tuesday are traveling well and I am on my way out of town for a(nother godforsaken) conference, I'll be brief today.

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???

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  1. cromartie Says:


    That is clearly not true. Asheville is a lovely place.

  2. eau Says:

    "I'm wondering why 2 of your 3 categories are fat people"

    I'm gonna go ahead and assume the elderly people ed is picturing are fat, too.

  3. Kaleberg Says:

    There are lots of people with time on their hands and not much in the way of brains. They have a serious need to express themselves. We used to have a billboard, on a tight turn, that had messages about space aliens and UN domination and god knows what else, but someone ran a small truck through it some years back. The local paper receives and prints all sorts of weird letters, and they do make you wonder. Someone wrote whining about a rock in the road in the national park on a 15 mile road marked "watch for rocks" and "avalanche danger" as often as they can get away with it without ruining the scenery. Hey, look at me, I'm whining right here.

    My favorite take on the Youtube comments problem is from XKCD:

    Though, to be honest, I've only posted one or two videos on Youtube and the comment on my brief visualization of state population growth was spot on. I really do need more data and better pacing to make it useful. Maybe now that I know that someone has actually looked at the thing I'll get in gear and improve it.

  4. Zebbidie Says:

    Yes, it surprises me from overseas that American liberals have such a down on obese people and those with poor dentition – diseases both of being poor and of being born to poor parents.
    I suppose they are all in favour of helping the poor, as long as they stay in their trailer parks…as opposed to Republicans who want tornados to go thru the parks. Funny old place the US.

  5. Piperspace Says:

    I just returned from a visit to my hometown in Sheboygan County, so maybe I can add some perspective. I think #1 hits close to the mark. There's a real disdain for liberals among older people (younger people with the means to do so tend to move to the city after graduating) in this rural part of WI that dates back to Nixon (yeah, I'm old enough to remember). It's a part of the local culture. Not to say there aren't liberals there, but there are fewer of them & they tend to be less outspoken.

  6. David R Says:

    If this is genuine, it at least partly answers the question of who these people are— PAID HACKS:

    Only in America (hopefully)

  7. jwm Says:

    riiight. As opposed to the not at all self-parodying writers who study and write blogs about the spectacle of our political theater as though its some kind of a science. Wait, tell me again, what are Palin's chances of being elected president?