9 types of online commentators

Forget therapy. It's much cheaper to classify your personality by how you use open comment boxes on the internet, says Susan Erasmus.

Don't get me wrong – I am not slamming the usefulness of therapy, but hell, who wouldn't take a shortcut if they could?

Here's a scary thought: how people behave when they think no one is looking, or no one knows who they are, actually does show you the real nature of the animal. It's a bit like what your table manners look like when you’re eating alone. OK, enough of the scary stuff.

Back to online commentators. It is a phenomenon of the age of the internet. But it is not entirely without precedent: the same types of contributors are also recognisable on phone-in radio programmes and always have been since someone cottoned onto the idea of audience participation and user feedback. Whatever the medium, the classification remains the same.

Feedback is great. What would the internet be without it? But it also provides an opportunity for people to give so much more than their opinion. A public view of their personalities. Now you too can learn to classify others. Classification can be such a comforting thing.

The following are in no particular order.                    

The Confessor. This is the person who fills up three comment boxes in succession with a long personal story – usually of disaster. The Confessor is insecure, has exhausted his audience among his colleagues and family, and is the type of person who simply gives too much information. By the end of the first date with a Confessor, you will know how much he earns, why he hates his ex-wife, why he doesn't get on with his father. You get the picture. The Confessor needs to see a therapist, but probably doesn't feel like paying for it. There is so much to say, after all.

Mother Theresa. Thank goodness for this person. Mother Theresa is the one who stops fights in comment boxes, says nice things to other contributors, thanks columnists for their efforts (are you listening!?), and is probably a really nice person in real life. Possibly sometimes a bit of a doormat, but hey, the rest of us need all the help we can.

The Troll. This one lurks in the corners and comes out sniping and swiping at everyone. The Troll never has a good word to say to anyone and never misses an opportunity to be destructive. In real life, this is probably someone who would not say boo to a goose, but the anonymity of the comment box gives him an opportunity to take revenge for his miserable childhood and grim current existence. He hasn't been on a date for 16 years.

The Many-headed Monster. This commentator likes to stir and has a nasty habit of pretending to be several people. Just one word of advice: if you are replying as 'someone else' to your own comments, it might be an idea to use spell check. The same spelling errors over and over again in different posts are rather a dead giveaway. This person is bored and will end up talking to herself for hours in later life. Chiefly because there will be no one else around.

The Dedicated Perve. This is someone who uses comment boxes as a sexual outlet. Not one comment from a woman will escape his notice. He will comment ceaselessly, making somewhat sleazy remarks in a relentless fashion. It's all just because he is too cheap to pay the subscription for a dating site, or he has the kind of job where no one will notice if he doesn't actually do any work for a week. No one will go out with him more than once – and that includes his wife.

The Political Animal. There is nothing in life that doesn't have a political angle, and that includes lunchtime sandwiches, hurricanes, kids' toys. This person will manage to find a way to twist any, and I mean any, conversation around to their particular point of view. They have a drum to bang, and bang they will, whether it is appropriate or not. They don't just behave like this in comment boxes: you should see their e-mail correspondence. There is more to life than their particular grudge, but they have never had the time to find that out. And everyone around them has given up.

The Evangelisers. These commentators are distantly related to the political animals. Except they're not on about politics, they do religion, or atheism, or whatever brand of spiritual expression floats their boat. And boy, can they go on and on and on. Just one question: do you think anyone has ever been converted to your opinion in a comment box? Case closed.

The 'Expert'. This is the one who trawls the internet to find out whether a factual error has been made by the author or another commentator. And she hits pay dirt on try number 167. She will post endless factual corrections in the comment box. She is easy to spot in real life. When you see her coming, everyone runs. A know-all can be so enormously exhausting. And the grim thing is that they are usually right, but at what cost to themselves?

The Voice of Sanity. Thank goodness for this person. This is the one who gets an out-of-control comment box that has turned vicious and personal back to the actual topic of discussion. Look out for these people in life. They will have lots of friends, no shortage of dates and a successful career history.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, February 2011)

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