World-Wide Trollery

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Re: If I Were A Black Kid, Kashmir Hill (at Forbes' site) notes the following:


In addition to staff writers (of which I am one), Forbes has a stable of 850+ writers who are "contributors" -- they get a little special tag on their pages that says, "The opinions expressed are those of the writer." Forbes pays these folks for the unique visitors and repeat visitors they attract. They are recruited based on their professional track records and journalism expertise, and editors don't usually see or approve of their posts in advance. 

Does having a payment model that rewards controversy encourage writers to bait readers with offensive material? When I first became a blogger, I discovered very quickly that the Internet has pressure points -- inherently controversial topics that, if pressed, will cause the Internet to go crazy. This usually translates to lots of readers and page views. When I was a legal blogger writing for law students and corporate lawyers, those pressure points included race, gender, prestige, and fashion. The first two are universal; the latter two were, I think, unique to legal readers obsessed with hierarchies and rankings, and a profession in which women still argue about whether high heels should be required footwear in court. 

Writing a post in one of these categories meant you were assured a rush of comments and readers. And if you wrote a story in one of these categories that contained offensive ideas, you were guaranteed even more readers. Case in point: The post to get the most traffic in my three years as an editor at Above the Law was about a Harvard Law student who entertained in an email the idea that "African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent." While I was not paid by the page view, it was always gratifying to have a lot of people read and debate something that I wrote... 

Marks's current piece would have been far less offensive had it not been about race, if it had instead been framed as a piece about poor kids in terrible schools and the resources on the Internet they can use to supplement their educations (assuming they have high-speed Internet access).... 

Of course, a post about "tech tools for schoolkids" wouldn't generate 200,000+ page views.

Indeed. I think this is worth remembering whenever we find ourselves (particularly black people) enraged by the weekly blog post making some outrageous claim, or employing the potent combo of specious logic and a veneer of heartfelt compassion or (just as often) sober, objective science.

I don't think ignoring this sort of thing is the way to go. But I do think you should be clear about why you're responding. I generally only try to speak on these sorts of posts if I have something to say beyond "You're wrong and here's why" or if I think I can get a good joke out of it. Truthfully I'd take the joke, first. I actually tried to come up with a few satirical posts initially, but ultimately had to go the serious route. I almost never respond because I am angry, and I never respond because I'm hoping to spark a "dialogue" or alter anyone's views. 

In terms of page-views, I don't really see it as my job to keep the conscience of the blogosphere. I have no idea if Mr. Marks is, indeed, trolling for comments. People who engage in that business must cope with their own morality. It's not my business.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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