Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Sociology of Haters & Trolls

Reading The Comments
Joseph M. Reagle, Jr.
240 pages
$15.39 Kindle Version
Reagle visits communities of Amazon reviewers, fan fiction authors, online learners, scammers, freethinkers, and mean kids. He shows how comment can inform us (through reviews), improve us (through feedback), manipulate us (through fakery), alienate us (through hate), shape us (through social comparison), and perplex us. He finds pre-Internet historical antecedents of online comment in Michelin stars, professional criticism, and the wisdom of crowds. He discusses the techniques of online fakery (distinguishing makers, fakers, and takers), describes the emotional work of receiving and giving feedback, and examines the culture of trolls and haters, bullying, and misogyny. He considers the way comment -- a nonstop stream of social quantification and ranking -- affects our self-esteem and well-being. And he examines how comment is puzzling -- short and asynchronous, these messages can be slap-dash, confusing, amusing, revealing, and weird, shedding context in their passage through the Internet, prompting readers to comment in turn, "WTF?!?"

As a reviewer/blogger, I was really excited to read this book. I thought it was great that someone decided to focus on the comments that shape and influence numerous types of websites, as well as the effect they have on the people who use those sites. However, I think Reagle missed his opportunity to truly explore new ground and, instead, wrote one anecdote after another. Considering the controversy over Amazon reviews in particular, I'm surprised at how little he covered the sociological aspects of this new culture that has developed as the internet has evolved.

A lot of the information provided seems like unnecessary filler, such as details about products for sale, instead of spotlighting the different types of reviewers and other online commentators. As a result, the insight that Reagle provides loses its impact on the reader. The most enlightening section is Chapter 3, which discusses the various forms of manipulation that occurs through reviews, comments, likes, etc. I wish the rest of the book had been more like that chapter.

In any case, if you are a reviewer, blogger or someone who relies on the internet to make a living, I recommend reading this book - it's entertaining, if not informative.

As always,

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