Internet Trolls Get Analyzed By a New Study, Though They’ll Probably Say It’s Wrong

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Have you ever been in an anonymous argument online? If so, then there is a chance you were trolled.

“Troll” is a word that regularly gets thrown around online forums these days, but the term itself is actually difficult to rigorously define. A new study released Monday is seeking to rectify this dearth of scholarly work on that special brand of Internet antagonist. In her paper “Trolling in Asynchronous Computer-Mediated Communication,” University of Central Lancashire lecturer Claire Hardaker offers both a working definition and some helpful tips for neutralizing a troll’s impact on a message board.

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According to Hardaker, a troll is an individual “who constructs the identity of sincerely wishing to be part of the group in question, including professing or conveying pseudo-sincere intentions, but whose real intention(s) is/are to cause disruption and/or to trigger or exacerbate conflict for the purposes of their own amusement.”

This means that anytime a chat room, message board, Facebook wall, Twitter stream or comment section of a news article is intentionally goaded into argumentative chaos, the instigator might be trolling.

In order to establish a rigorous study of trolls, Hardaker studied nine years worth of unmoderated comments from a forum about horses. To narrow her search, she focused on comments that called out would-be trolls and complained about trolling in general. In summarizing the behavioral patterns she learned from this 172-million-word treasure trove, Hardaker wrote:

“Trolling can (1) be frustrated if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but are not provoked into responding, (2) be thwarted if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but counter in such a way as to curtail or neutralise the success of the troller, (3) fail if users do not correctly interpret an intent to troll and are not provoked by the troller, or, (4) succeed if users are deceived into believing the troller’s pseudo-intention(s), and are provoked into responding sincerely. Finally, users can mock troll. That is, they may undertake what appears to be trolling with the aim of enhancing or increasing effect, or group cohesion.”

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