Lecture: Trolling


Having exposed a troll in ultimately tragic circumstances, Sky’s Martin Brunt is now himself being trolled.

I gave today’s lecture in the second year Digital Cultures module here at the University of Huddersfield. The presentation I gave can be found here.

I showed the students some of the most recent high-profile examples of trolling and related behaviour, from the ultimately tragic case of Brenda Leyland to the row involving Dapper Laughs and what happened after he was called out by UsVsTh3m. I then discussed some of the academic research into the motivations that lie behind trolling, before considering the various ways in which government, the police and others have responded to trolling.

I took as the starting point of the lecture a definition of trolling outlined in a paper published this year by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, called Trolls Just Want To Have Fun. It suggests: “Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”

It’s not bad as definitions go. Some have suggested that Brenda Leyland wasn’t really a troll, because as the parents of Madeleine McCann aren’t on Twitter themselves, her tweets about them weren’t aimed at them personally. However, I’d say her tweets could probably be considered “deceptive, destructive, or disruptive” – and possibly all three – and certainly existed in a social setting online, so would fall under that definition.

However, the case of Dapper Laughs and the apparent trolling of UsVsTh3m journalist Abi Wilkinson and others by his fans which took place on Snapchat, pushes this definition to its limit. Snapchat is more of a private than a social setting, and you although you access it using the internet, any trolling on Snapchat is done in the form of direct messaging not open to the general public. I suppose the same would go for Twitter DMs or anything sent by Facebook Messenger. It’s not even a year old, but perhaps it’s already time to stretch that definition a bit.

One response to “Lecture: Trolling

  1. Technically trolling that is done by personal message is not trolling it is a poison pen letter. An ancient and neglected if completely illegal and immoral artform. Reading however Alastair Campbell’s diaries where someone writes to his wife in the run-up to the Iraq War “what’s it like sleeping with a murderer” or something …I did begin to wonder if it is entirely all a bad thing…

    I’m not sure all Abi Wilikinson’s detractors can be classed trolls. She was running a political campaign to censor a comedian and thus is a legitimate target for satire. Also she seems to hold Mr Dapper Laughs responsible for comments that he did not make himself which seems to me a bit Nikolai Bukharin and the trial of the twenty one – unless of course he retweeted them… if we’re all to be judged not by what we think and and say but about what people think and say about what we think and say that is to say the least inserting an awful lot of links into the chain of cause and effect. This goes to the heart of the issue really…. when does bad taste become incitement and how likely do you think incitement or potential incitement is to create a real world effect. A question to which no one really knows the answer for sure …and indeed perhaps there isn’t one.

    However it has to be said that most of the people who attacked her were not very cogent and I’m sure many of their techniques of criticism were not particularly admirable.

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