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Getting to know those that make comments on news websites

by Alan Herzberger Modified: April 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm •  Published: June 23, 2010

Last week, ran a story that many of us in the news industry found fascinating.

It was about those who spend a lot of their free time participating in comments on news websites like (or

I think many news consumers would find it equally fascinating, since those are the individuals that become the audience for the comments — good and bad comments; offensive and innocuous comments.

The reporter in this story, Neil Swidey, reached out to many of’s heavy commenters. I love his analysis of those that were interested in discussing their involvement.

Those willing to talk included people on the left and the right, males and females, people passionate about sports and people passionate about politics and people passionate about passion (the Love Letters crowd). Somewhat surprisingly, many had no problem with my using their real names in the article, though a few offered some understandable reasons why they didn’t want to be identified.

But here are the people I didn’t hear back from: the screamers, troublemakers, and trolls (Internet slang for people behind inflammatory posts). Not a single one. The loudest, most aggressive voices grew mum when asked to explain themselves, to engage in an actual discussion. The trolls appear to prize their anonymity more than anyone else.

Fascinating, but not surprising.

But the best information came in the final lines of the article, when Swidey points out that three simple data points can erase most anonymous identities — zip code, gender and date of birth.

87 percent of Americans can now be identified with just these three data points.

Maybe the best approach to getting people to behave better online is just reminding them how easy it is to figure out who they really are.

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by Alan Herzberger
Digital Managing Editor
Alan Herzberger is the Digital Managing Editor for and The Oklahoman. He focuses on content within OPUBCO Communications Group’s variety of digital products. He’s been with The Oklahoman since 1997, when he joined the sports...
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