Isabel Ermida University of Minho “‘Get the snip – and a job!’ Disagreement, impoliteness and conflicting identities on the Internet.”
This article investigates the construction of disagreement and the emergence of conflict talk in the comment boards of the British Mail Online newspaper website. It focuses on the case of a young unemployed couple, parents of six, who are asking Social Security fora four-bedroom flat. By resorting to a threefold framework for the analysis of disagreement – backgrounded, hedged and foregrounded disagreement (Scott 2002, Walkinshaw 2009) – it concentrates on the linguistic and discursive strategies which online speakers employ to disagree in a more or less explicit way. In light of the diversity of negative responses to this specific news report case, which range from mildly disapproving comments to blatantly offensive remarks, it also explores the interactional factors which influence the management of face and the occurrence of (im)politeness. Such factors as anonymity, asynchronicity, spatial disconnection and, crucially, thirdparty targeting are advanced as possible explanations. Furthermore, the fact that online interaction is multi-party seems to lead to what is coined “multi-topic argument”, at the same time as the public character of the exchanges prompts the expression of strongly ideological positions regarding the broad concept of social class, as well as specific issues of unemployment, housing and parenting policies. Crucially, the article explores how relational work in such a complex participation setting influences the online construction of individual and group identity vis-à-vis the reification of the “us vs. them” rhetoric. Last but not least, the article also discusses the way in which a typically plural and open public online platform, with no moderation or censorship, turns the exercise of freedom of speech into the expression of hate, discrimination, and prejudice.