Communication and internet trolls


Technology has greatly revolutionized the way people communicate and interact with one another. Social networking sites, websites, blogs and discussion forums have provided important avenues where people share and discuss different issues. However, the gains of online communication have been significantly affected by the onslaught of online trolls. The internet provides an avenue where a person can become empowered through the expression of marginalized voices. However, counterproductive internet trolling undermines personality and social mores and willingness to express oneself on the online platforms. Some of the internet trolls traumatize, frustrate, anger and exacerbate depression which is detrimental to one’s state of mind and health. For this reason, online trolling should be faced head-on, and the veils that perpetrators use to hide should be broken down to aid in their apprehension. This paper will address communication and how it is affected by online trolls. The article will dissect internet trolling by discussing the motives behind internet trolling, online freedom and impacts of trolling.

Literature Review

Online Trolling

The proliferation of social networking sites, discussion forums and blogging that allows has increased the problem of internet trolling in the society. Internet trolling is defined as the practice of posting troublesome, offensive and disturbing messages intended to cause anger, anxiety, and torment to another internet user (Herring et al., 2002). The original form of trolling aimed to create entertaining and prank, however, the new trolling direction has shifted into spectacles of incivility and harmful behavior. Trolls provided an important avenue for criticism until they turned into a personal attack on some individuals who express themselves on the internet. According to Backels et al. (2014), online trolling has been exacerbated by exploitation of hot-button issues to instigate conflicting emotional feelings to chide another person. Those who troll others intend to use the internet as an avenue of drawing amusement and entertainment. However, the merciless amusement is to the detriment of those who are trolled. The internet acts as an anonymous environment where a person can gain a platform for self-expression. The troll persona leverage on the anonymity nature of the internet to propagate malicious messages with the intention of hurting others. Lenhardt (2013), claims that the perpetrators of online trolling have a clear intent of using internet for entertainment by causing harm to others.

Internet Use

Internet use has been the main driving force behind the proliferation of internet trolling. Use of the internet is determined by the kind of satisfaction that a person wants to achieve. Some individuals achieve satisfaction through the anti-social use of the web. In a study by Juvonen and Gross (2008), it was established that personalities with high technological skills and use internet for long periods of the day are closely linked with cyberbullying. Moreover, the nature of a person to agree or disagree with one another plays a role in determining the way a person uses the internet.

In a study by Philip and Butt (2008), individuals with low level of agreeableness were found to use internet entertainment and competitive purposes like gaming. A similar idea is supported by findings in a study by Graham (2013), who established that people with low agreeableness level use internet longer and for the anti-social purpose. Therefore, heavy use of internet and use of the internet for entertainment and anti-social purposes is highly linked to the proliferation of online trolling. According to Backels et al. (2014), asserts that most of the online trolls are proliferated by individuals seeking amusement at the expense of causing pain and anger to others.

Motives Behind Internet Trolling

Some studies have been conducted trying to establish the motivation behind online trolling. In one of the studies, Shachaf and Hara (2010), found boredom, desire to revenge, gain publicity, gain amusement and desire to cause harm to others as the driving forces behind online trolling.  Most of those who troll others on the internet intended to become famous by crafting messages that would crack a unique joke. However, the jokes go beyond the predetermined limit to cause harm. Probably other individuals find pleasure through online trolling to make-up for fun that they lack in real life. Introverts are mostly linked to use of internet trolling to achieve the popularity that they cannot achieve in real life. However, a study by Hardaker (2010), relates people with an aggressive nature to online trolling. The aggressive nature pushes some of the individuals to dominate over others by demeaning and despairing their character.

The study by Hardaker also found that the desire to gain certain accomplishments, deceive and disrupt others major motivating factors behind internet trolling. The desire to achieve success is similar to Shachaf and Hara’s desire to gain attention and success. Moreover, the two studies exhibit similarities in the sense that the disruption and deception are intended to cause damage while the desire to gain pleasure is parallel to success. In another study, Herrig et al. (2002), established how online trolling is used to disrupt the online communication forums for the vulnerable members of the community. The trolling hurl attacks to certain groups in the society to disrupt and cause conflict among the groups.  Therefore, the motivating factors behind the online trolling are informed by the nature of a person and what the person intends to achieve. Undeniably, all of the factors tend to lean more on causing damage and driving pleasure than any other aspect. In fact, personal characteristics and use of the internet have been found to play a central role in the motive behind online trolling.

Psychology and Online Trolling

Personality traits have mostly been linked to the high prevalence of online trolling. Different studies have been done to evaluate the connection between personality traits and the nature of online trolling. The study of personality traits helps to inform psychological factors that affect or influence individuals to proliferate disruptive and damaging posts the internet. In one of the studies, Buckels et al. found close relations between Dark Tetrad (2014), sadism and the personalities of the individuals who spread online trolling. In the study, persons with a sadist personality expressed a high link to the online trolling activities for enjoyment.

The sadists use the internet as a means of deriving amusement and entertainment which cannot be found in other sources. The trolling gives them rare satisfaction in the knowledge that the person being trolled is suffering (Buckels et al., 2014). On the other hand, the Dark Tetrad gain enjoyment from trolling. However, other online activities like gaming and interacting with friends yielded enjoyment among the sadists. The study found that the sadists solely draw their enjoyment from trolling alone hence their long affiliation with the trolling. Elimination of online trolling among the sadists makes use of internet meaningless.

Impacts of Online Trolling on Communication

The advancement in communication technology was intended to break communication barriers. However, the dramatic rise in trolling activities is affecting people’s willingness to share their feelings or discuss ideas openly. Exchange of slurs, hateful messages and other forms of text that deface a person’s image makes undermine the communication values that have been built over several decades. Scots (2004), points that the anonymity nature of internet creates an open platform where a person can share what he wants without minding its impact on others. It has now become hard for people to believe the accuracy of the shared information due to the increased case of trolling (Hardaker, 2010). The mainstream media exercise some forms of ethical considerations when sharing information. However, anonymous posts overstep the communication ethic by causing damage to others (Hlavach, & Frevogel, 2011). The use of disruptive online trolls is affecting the online communication freedom.

In conclusion, the internet has been invaluable in improving the amount of information shared across the globe. The web 2.0 played a significant role in breaking down the communication barriers experienced previous across the globe. Online trolling through use of transgressed humor is ruining the value of the internet in communication. Developing measures to unravel the identity of the anonymous characters that perpetuate online trolling is a tedious process but worth the results. The online trolling is capable of profiling racial discrimination and other negative messages using thinly veiled messages. It is essential for the public to make good use of the discussion forums and debate boards to exchange ideas and enhance interactions.

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  1. Buckels, E., Trapnell, P., Paulhus, D. (2014). Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences. j.paid.2014.01.016
  2. Graham, L.  Gosling, S.  (2013). Personality profiles associated with different motivations for playing World of Warcraft. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16, 189–193
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  7. Lenhardt, A. (2013). Teens, smartphones & texting. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project
  8. Phillips, J. G., Butt, S. (2006). Personality and self-reported use of mobile phones for games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9, 753–758
  9. Scot, C. (2014). Benefits and drawbacks of anonymous online communication: Legal challenges and communicative recommendations. Free Speech Yearbook, 41
  10. Shachaf, P., Hara, N. (2010). Beyond vandalism: Wikipedia trolls. Journal of Information Science, 36, 357–370.
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