Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Who Carries the Water? An Analysis of Online Disputation Regarding the Flint Water Crisis

Who Carries the Water? An Analysis of Online Disputation Regarding the Flint Water Crisis

Matthew Ashford

The internet has become one of the foremost places for people to discuss, pontificate, and argue about politics; one can find long threads of comments and arguments following almost every article about politically charged events. This paper examines internet comment threads attached to articles surrounding the Flint Water Crisis to examine the motives and goals of the individual posters. Are they just arguing to advance their particular opinion or ideology? Does the subject of the article relate to the comments posted? Are they trying to win the argument, and can the argument ever, in fact, be won? The study examines nearly eight hundred comments posted on six separate articles and breaks down the language used as it relates to existing literature on conflict resolution, political disputation, and strategies for legitimization. This analysis leads to the conclusion that internet posters largely base their comments not on winning the argument, but instead focus on two primary goals: First, to dominate the conversation and obfuscate or refute viewpoints other than their own, and second to index themselves with a particular group or ideology. Future research into this subject could yield new ways to approach political arguments in general, online arguments, and even perhaps shed light on the hardening of the political divide in the United States and possible ways to bridge that divide.

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April 11, 2016 - Posted by | abstract

3 Comments »

  1. The point that these comments work to index the writer with a group or ideology is interesting and can be seen in a wide range of comment thread topics. I am wondering, since so much of the discourse on this story has been directly political in nature, if the commenters are primarily aligning themselves on political lines or (and) aligning themselves objectively in this respect and instead focusing comments and debates on possible solutions, the science of the water issue, and private efforts to assist the people of Flint. ,

    Comment by Debbie Leggett | April 18, 2016 | Reply

  2. “This analysis leads to the conclusion that internet posters largely base their comments not on winning the argument, but instead focus on two primary goals: First, to dominate the conversation and obfuscate or refute viewpoints other than their own, and second to index themselves with a particular group or ideology.” I find these findings fascinating, particularly the first. I have found that people it the comment section of articles focus there comments on debunking other comment compared to supporting their arguments. This is the world where trolls get identified and live.

    Comment by D Castagna | April 19, 2016 | Reply

  3. This topic is key, including both the current Flint Water Crisis and shedding light on the social media nature of online commenting. In your abstract you quote, in terms of what future research can add is that it can “even perhaps shed light on the hardening of the political divide in the United States and possible ways to bridge that divide.” This is a point I never thought about and I believe can open up the door to great findings in the future.

    Comment by Crystal Mitchell | April 25, 2016 | Reply


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