With hate and dissension online increasingly forcing many to step away from social media, an award-winning New York-based journalist has released a timely book exposing the raw racism that lurks in the comments sections of news websites. Rants & Retorts: How Bigots Got a Monopoly on Commenting About News Online, by Anita M. Samuels, whose bylines have graced the pages of the New York Times, Billboard and the New York Daily News, is a culmination of Samuels’ review of online comments sections since 2008. The book includes a foreword by hip-hop artist /activist Chuck D of Public Enemy.
Beginning in the early 1990s as a way for news websites to engage with readers, comments sections quickly devolved into a cesspool of negativity and naked racism from posters who hide behind the anonymity of “screen name” aliases.
In 2008, Samuels, a long-time Daily News contributor, began noticing and reporting to editors bigoted commentary in comments sections. These were not mere differences of opinion; when stories had to do with African-Americans, those writing often attacked the entire Black race. Though many posts were eventually taken down, soon the number of offensive statements exploded. Alarmed by the trend and encouraged by friends and colleagues to write a book, Samuels began to collect examples of these comments, to research the psychosocial causes behind them and ask news corporations what they were doing about them.
Immersing herself in the subject took a toll on her psyche. Samuels argues that the intolerance displayed in comments sections and online has taken its toll on the American public at large.
With interviews with some 30 experts on media, culture, psychology, and technology, Rants & Retorts chronicles the ascendancy of hate speech in many online news forums. It also presents dozens of anonymous comments by topic including on Barack Obama’s presidency, crime, education and parenting, among others, and examines the harmful stereotypes and divisive beliefs these Internet rants perpetuate in American society.
Against the backdrop of a racially divisive election, Samuels’ book and findings question just how free free speech should be. “I decided that the commentary should be documented as a 21st-century tool for the high-speed spread of racism by lay people,” she said on why she decided to author the book.
“Anita Samuels provides an insightful examination of the history, pros and cons of online comments through the dirty lens of hate speech against African-Americans. Her book will make you wonder about everyday people typing nearby at your coffee shop, library or job,” commented Yanick Rice Lamb, Chair, Department of Media, Journalism and Film, Howard University.
“Anita Samuels has expertly presented the raw, rabid and rancid soul of commentators who employ the new technology to spew hate with Gatling-gun accuracy,” added Nick Charles, Adjunct Professor of Media, CCNY.
Rants & Retorts is available in paperback and e-book formats at Amazon.com, Greenlight Books, huemanbookstore.com and BooksaMillion.com, as well as at local bookstores.