"Destroy the Scum, and Then Neuter Their Families:" The Web Forum as a Vehicle for Community Discourse?

Brian Coffey, University of Washington - Tacoma Campus
Stephen Woolworth


On-line media forums have become common vehicles to promote discussion about particular issues or events. This essay addresses the degree to which the anonymity of such computer-mediated communication affects the level and tone of discourse when sensitive or volatile local issues are the focus of discussion. Nearly 300 postings to a web forum that was established by a newspaper in response to a brutal murder that took place in the community are examined. Results show that the forum was dominated by individuals harshly critical of the assailants, their families, and various civic institutions. Vitriol, racist denunciations, and calls for severe retribution took precedence over attempts to understand why the event took place or to express sympathy for the victim. Forums of this nature appear to do little to promote understanding or encourage positive dialogue. It is recommended that methods designed to elevate the level of discourse be considered when establishing forums related to local issues that elicit strong emotion.