The Art of Trolling: Probing the Minds of Internet Trolls
Fri, December 3, 2021

The Art of Trolling: Probing the Minds of Internet Trolls



Trolling is a modern phenomenon that we cannot stop any time soon, noted Rachel Hosie of Independent, the UK’s largest quality digital news brand. In fact, many news platforms have removed their comments section below their articles. Apparently, anti-trolling systems have also been brought into place to minimize trolling behavior.  

For instance, NRK, a Norwegian public broadcaster, trialed a system that prompts individuals to answer a question about the article before they are allowed to write a comment. This process helps inform potential trolls lurking in the platform. Trolling is an epidemic that intoxicates cyberspace and its users. 


Survey On Malicious Comments and Trolling Behavior (2014)

According to a survey by global public opinion and data company YouGov, 45% of US respondents have seen trolls on chat boards/forums/image boards at least once a week, followed by social media (39%), blogs (39%), entertainment/news articles (36%), videos/vlogs (33%), and review sites (20%), reported Jake Gammon of YouGov.

When the question, “On which, if any, of the following topics have you EVER seen trolling behavior on the Internet?” was asked, 49% of US adults said they have seen trolls on politics. This was followed by news/current events (38%), religion (38%), celebrity (31%), sports (25%), emotional such as a traumatic experience (23%), and personal such a person’s day (19%).



Study Examines Internet Trolling Victimization Among Undergraduate Business Students

Carl J. Case and Darwin L. King of St. Bonaventure University, a private Franciscan university in New York, conducted a survey to assess the incidence of internet trolling victimization among undergraduate business students. Case and King obtained a sample of 445 usable surveys. 

64% of the participants were male and 36% were female. There were five websites that were used by most students and these were: Snapchat (92%), Instagram (88%), Facebook (80%), Twitter (73%), and YouTube (69%). The websites least used by the students were LinkedIn (29%), Pinterest (20%), Google+ (11%), Reddit (7%), Tumblr (4%), YikYak (2%), other (2%), 4chan (1%), 8chan (0%), and Voat (0%).

With regard to trolling, the highest percentage of users being trolled were YikYak (82%) and 4chan (67%). On the other hand, lesser trolled sites included other (44%), Twitter (29%), Instagram (17%), Reddit (16%), Facebook (15%), and Snapchat (13%). The least trolled users included (6%), Tumblr (6%), YouTube (5%), LinkedIn (3%), and Pinterest (3%). The remaining users reported not being trolled.

The users on each site were asked to estimate the incidence of other users that they have witnessed being trolled on the site. The sites that other users were most actively trolled included 4chan (133 incidences per user), YikYak (109 incidences per user), Twitter (68 incidences per user), Reddit (68 incidences per user), other (67 incidences per user), Facebook (64 incidences per user), Tumblr (50 incidences per user), and Instagram (47 incidences per user).

Meanwhile, the least trolled websites were YouTube (32 SL17019 incidences per user), Snapchat (24 incidences per user), Google+ (15 incidences per user), Pinterest (7 incidences per user), LinkedIn (2 incidences per user), 8chan (no incidences per user), and Voat (no incidences per user). All in all, 38% of students said they were being trolled and respondents noticed 74 other individuals being trolled at least once in the last six months.

The authors also found that there were 8.2 trolls per student for users, 199.7 observed trolls per user, and 21.7 trolls for victims of social media platforms in the last six months. Case and King recommended researchers to undertake future studies on exploring how gender affects trolling incidence and determining which measures may be taken in the education process to usher more positive change in behavior and response to victimization.



The Online Disinhibition Effect

The online disinhibition effect is when factors such as anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority, and inability to communicate in real time disregard morals and ethics, stated Time, an American weekly news magazine. People who take advantage of this freedom are called trolls. The term “trolls” originated from a fishing method online thieves utilize to find victims. Trolls have now evolved into people who hide in the depths of the internet to sow discord.

Trolls do what they do for the “lulz” (laughs), which can range from clever pranks to harassment and violent threats. Trolls also doxx (publishing personal information) and swat (calling an emergency to the victim’s house) to spite their victims. Trolls tell those who do not experience the “lulz” that they do not have a sense of humor.



Does Trolling Have Something to Do With A Person’s Mood?

In a study by Justin Cheng and colleagues, they found that trolling behavior is based on the individual’s mood and the tone of other comments. They gave the participants the same article with three comments, though not the same. Some of the participants read articles with three neutral, inoffensive comments and others read articles that contained comments from trolls.   

The research revealed that 35% of participants who completed the easy test and viewed inoffensive comments wrote trolling comments. Half of those who took the tricky test or read the troll’s comments posted some nasty comments. Further, 68% of people who completed the difficult test and read the trolls’ comments wrote trolling comments.

In the research, people were more likely to write a flagged post if one of their comments had recently been flagged or contributed to another discussion that contained flagged posts. “Bad conversations lead to bad conversations. People who get down-voted come back more, comment more and comment even worse,” stated Jure Leskovec, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford and senior author of the study.


The Bigger Implications of Trolling Behavior

In 2011, trolls invaded Facebook memorials of recently deceased users to poke fun at their deaths. After feminist Anita Sakeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of YouTube videos about misogyny in video games in 2012, she was barraged with bomb threats at speaking engagements, doxxing threats, rape threats, and a role in a video game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian.”

In 2017, deputy Washington editor of the New York Times Jonathan Weisman left Twitter, which had nearly 35,000 followers, after receiving anti-Semitic messages. In July, feminist writer Jessica Valenti announced that she was leaving social media after her five-year-old daughter was threatened with rape.  

Whitney Phillips, a literature professor at Mercer University, said, “Trolls are portrayed as aberrational and antithetical to how normal people converse with each other. And that could not be further from the truth.” Phillips, who is also the author of “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture,” added that trolls are mostly individuals who do things that appear fun but have huge implications.

Trolls can take advantage of anonymity to provoke or harass other internet users. Trolls may troll due to personal amusement or to project their insecurities towards a person. A person may also troll because they are having a bad mood or perhaps, they are not aware of the consequences of their actions.