Rhetorical Answer

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A response to the question never asked

Comment Vitriol

In perusing the comments sections of several high-traffic blogs lately – Freakonomics and TechCrunch in particular – I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: someone will post a comment that the majority of other commenters perceive as overly judgemental, hostile, and extreme. I’m not sure you could call this person a troll or label their comment as flamebait since they usually have a lengthly explanation for why they feel the way they do and will even post follow-up comments to defend their viewpoint against the avalanche of criticism that ensues. Trolls don’t usually care about what they are posting; they are just trying to get a rise out of the population. So in this case, I’ll just call the person the Irritant. Reading through the entire comment list, the Irritant’s viewpoint clearly becomes the dominant one out of all those presented. He may have only commented once or a handful of times, but because so many of the other comments are a direct response to the Irritant’s viewpoint, that viewpoint gets reinforced through repeated analysis, to the point where it becomes more memorable – and perhaps more influential? – than the message of the original blog post.

I wonder if this is so different from the propagandist tactic of repeating a misstatement or lie so often that facts become irrelevant. Not to suggest that the unpopular viewpoint is a lie, but if we consider majority perception of reality as de facto reality, then something that goes against that majority perception could be considered a rebuttal of that reality, aka a misstatement or lie. If repetition is really more influential than reasoned, substantiated argument, then the echo chamber that is the blogosphere suddenly seems a whole lot more sinister that traditional propaganda machines. As my parting line, I leave you with exhibit A. Comments?

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