'Poor Black Kid' Piece: Bait for Trolls?

"If I Were a Poor Black Kid" drew massive criticism. A Forbes staffer explains that that might have been the whole point.

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By now, everyone has probably read middle-aged, white Forbes contributor Gene Marks' supremely unhelpful thoughts on what he imagines he would do if he were a poor black child. All over the Internet, commentators have pointed out the limits of the piece, poking holes in everything from the author's understanding of poor children's access to technology to his grasp of grammar.

Today on The Root, Elon James sums up the advice: " 'Go Google some stuff and be awesome.' --White guy writing at Forbes." The original article has inspired hundreds of comments on the site. Many of them criticize the substance of the piece, but not all fall under the "healthy debate" category; many are simply Internet "trolls" spewing hate.

But Forbes writer Kashmir Hill explains today that Marks likely knew exactly what he was doing. In a position in which his success and compensation are measured in page views, he was likely using a tried-and-true controversy-creating formula, in which anything offensive (especially when related to race) guarantees more clicks.

Sounds to us like he would be better qualified to give advice on how to cause a stir online than how to escape poverty. But maybe that wouldn't offend enough people to make him famous.

Read a few excerpts here:

In addition to staff writers (of which I am one), Forbes has a stable of 850+ writers who are “contributors” -- they get a little special tag on their pages that says, “The opinions expressed are those of the writer.” Forbes pays these folks for the unique visitors and repeat visitors they attract.

[T]he Internet has pressure points -- inherently controversial topics that, if pressed, will cause the Internet to go crazy. This usually translates to lots of readers and page views. When I was a legal blogger writing for law students and corporate lawyers, those pressure points included race, gender, prestige, and fashion.

Writing a post in one of these categories meant you were assured a rush of comments and readers. And if you wrote a story in one of these categories that contained offensive ideas, you were guaranteed even more readers.

Gene Marks has proved to be pretty awesome at trolling the Internet. He wrote a post shortly after Steve Jobs’s death about how he was a jerk, and another about how most women will never become CEOs. Like his current post, these produced a lot of outrage -- and also a lot of traffic ...

Read more at Forbes.

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