On Deadline Comment Trolls

By Deane Barker on January 23, 2007

A while ago, USA Today created On Deadline, which is their “news blog.” It’s essentially news stories, reiterated in a more informal tone, with links to other papers, and comments are open.

That last part has been pretty entertaining. Since On Deadline has huge readership, it’s read by a lot of people who don’t usually post on the Web. These folks aren’t jaded and cynical about flame wars like us dorks, and there are some real trolls in there that love to stir the pot.

The result: every single post about anything even remotely political becomes a massive flame war. Consider this post about an 81-year-old man who sent a letter to the editor that could have been construed as a threat to the president, and was consequently visited by the Secret Service:

Bush is in cahoots with the Bin Laden family. That is why when no other planes were flying on 9/11, the Bin Laden’s were still allowed to leave and Cheney made sure they got out safely.

[…] Here we have yet another example of an abuse of police power in America. Many think we solved a major problem in disposing of Hitler some time ago. Think again.

[…] It’s pretty nauseating reading the liberal comments here. If I had a dollar for every time a liberal with an IQ under 120 called the President an idiot or half-joked about killing him I’d be a millionaire.

[…] NeoCon agenda: Eliminate the Constitution. Invade countries that have not attacked us. Establish Big Brother tactics (the Patriot Act) to spy on decent Americans. Play the fear card (LEVEL ORANGE). Get rich. NeoCon: SS

And it goes on and on. The comments are moderated, but short of profanity, I think the moderators will let anything through.

I watch “On Deadline” out of the corner of my eye, and when anything with any political angle comes across, I’m all over it. The comments are always entertaining, often hysterical, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. No matter if these folks learn that flame wars can never be won, there’s such a depth of readerships that new commenters will always be there to take their place.

Someone should link to this site from the Wikipedia entry on flame war. It’s an absolute case study every day. In another sense, it’s a perfect example of the futility of political debate on the Internet. No one is changing their mind — they’re just slinging mud and enjoying it.

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