In his new book Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web (MIT Press, 2015) Joseph Reagle visits communities of Amazon reviewers, fan fiction authors, online learners, scammers, freethinkers, and mean kids. He shows how comment can inform (through reviews), improve (through feedback), manipulate (through fakery), alienate (through trolling and hate), shape (through social comparison), and perplex us. While we are counseled to “avoid the comments,” Reagle argues that reading the comments permits us to ask important questions about human nature and social behavior. In this talk, he will reflect on four of those questions. What’s behind the boom and bust cycle of blog, comment, and community platforms? Second, can we trust online reviews? Third, why are comments often so hostile, sexist, and racist? And finally, how can we make sense of the product review: “saved my son’s life: 4/5 stars”?
Joseph Reagle is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern and a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. He taught and received his Ph.D. at NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. As a Research Engineer at MIT he served as an author and working group chair within the IETF and W3C on topics including digital security, privacy, and Internet policy. His current interests include geek feminism and online culture.