This post’s title and topic were inspired by my husband, who frequently comments about how seemingly everyone on the internet is a big, flaming racist. “Everyone,” in this case, will have to stand in for Americans, as he frequents mostly American websites and news sources. In his experience (and mine), American internet commenters tend to lash out the most violently against two people groups: Hispanic people (who will often be lumped together as “Mexicans”) and Muslim people (who are technically part of a religious, not ethnic, group, but the anonymous person typing furiously about bombing all the “Muslim countries” to hell rarely delineates between Muslim and non-Muslim people from the Middle East).
So what’s the deal? Are racist comments indicative of the actual beliefs of a significant cross-section of the American people, or is this just some really nasty trolling? Let’s look at a recent news event from a fairly neutral source, CNN.com, and try to parse it out.
One of November 5’s most-read articles is “Second Deadly Mosque Attack in Pakistan,” and the text is accompanied by a video of reporter Reza Sayah, who is embedded in Islamabad. The first two paragraphs give a basic rundown of what happened:
“Authorities in Pakistan are reporting a second deadly mosque attack Friday in the country’s volatile northwestern region, a strike that killed four people and injured 18 others.
This follows a fatal blast that killed at least 67 people and wounded more than 80 others in a suicide attack that targeted anti-Taliban members at another mosque in the northwest, said government official Khalid Umarzai.”
This article dismantles the paradigm that all Muslims are anti-government, Taliban supporters. In fact, many Pakistani people are pro-government, and if anything resonates with the populist movement in America, it should be the residents of northwestern villages forming anti-Taliban “peace committees” to show their support for the Pakistani military. That the Taliban then targeted these people at their places of worship is terrible.
So, let’s take a deep breath, and go to the article’s comments. As of 2 p.m. EST, November 5, there were over 1,700 comments. I couldn’t wade through that many, so I clicked on “Most Liked” to get an idea of where the general conversation was going. Here are the top three “Most Liked” comments:
It can be difficult to weed out the trolls from the sincerely bad commenters, but if I had to make a guess, I’d say IsraeliGuy is a troll (the handle seems a bit calculated), setsuna is not, scranton is someone expressing a genuine belief (albeit with a bit of offensive language mixed in) and vaarunm is a toss-up between troll and insensitive, uninformed jerk .
The good news is plenty of commenters refuted the anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by these people. The bad news is a metric ton of people “liked” these comments without necessarily contributing any of their own racist crap to get ripped apart. Ultimately, as there’s no way to know for sure what someone else’s intentions are, we have to either accept that a lot of people who comment on the Internet are super-racist, or that they get their jollies from trolling serious topics with faux-racist comments. Honestly, neither one of those sounds like someone I’d care for IRL.