April 15, 2015

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Tomasky was unmoved by my misgivings:

“€œI understand your question, but this is not four or five comments, or even 70 or 80. I’ve read these sites for years. It’s hundreds of comments. Maybe more. … After a certain point, I think it’s fair to say that the numbers are indicative of something. As for the anonymity, sure, people say things under that cloak they wouldn’t say otherwise, but doesn’t that just suggest that maybe we’re getting their real feelings? I mean, David, in your soul of souls, do you really think, knowing all we know about the history of the last 50 years and all we know about the nature of the GOP opposition to Obama, that the Republican Party has no racial hangups?”€

See what he did there? He tried to spin it so that relying on anonymous comment trolls is actually better, because maybe we”€™re getting their “€œreal feelings”€ (so why not apply that across the board and make all sources anonymous to the reporters who use them?). We also see more confirmation bias: Tomasky likes using the trolls because they confirm what he “€œfeels”€ in his “€œsoul of souls.”€ But at least he’s willing to talk about the issue. When MSNBC.com “€œsocial justice reporter”€ Gabriela Resto-Montero wrote a piece in February 2014 in which she relied entirely on Youtube comment trolls to support her claim that “€œconservatives”€ hate “€œbiracial families,”€ she responded to my inquiry by changing her name on Facebook and blocking me!

Framing entire stories around anonymous troll comments is a trend that’s here to stay for the time being. Most journalists are on a constant quest to find the next potentially “€œviral”€ story, and now that they know there’s a bottomless well of ugliness sitting below every video on Youtube and every story on major news sites, the scourge of writers block and the tyranny of impending deadlines can vanish with a quick copy-and-paste. “€œBillyBob88 just watched a Youtube video; what he did next will blow your mind!”€ And presto, you”€™ve created an eminently sharable viral story out of absolutely nothing.

What ABC 57 did in the Memories Pizza incident was to up the ante by randomly picking a complete nobody and building a lead story around her off-the-cuff opinions as though she were Angela Merkel. For lazy reporters, inflating troll comments and man-on-the-street responses to “€œbreaking news”€ status is a great life hack. And let’s be honest, the public seems to go for it. We love commenting and we love reading comments. So maybe we”€™re getting the quality of news reporting that we deserve.

What do you think? Please comment below.


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