[-empyre-] Xb Trolling

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Fri Oct 12 18:26:27 EST 2012

1) Existence is not easy online, normally our existence and presence is reinforced by people's ongoing responses to us. Online presence or absence is not obvious – what I have called asence. The only way to confirm that we do exist is to get responses from other people. The easiest way to do this is to upset them. Quite often the upset response will also upset us, so a self-reinforcing cycle of asence resolution is set up, with nothing likely to calm it down. Hence the eruptions of flame.

If the forum allows many to many communication then other people are likely to join in, and the ‘flame war’ becomes even more self-reinforcing (lots of people are acknowledging you) and harder to settle down. This is intensified because communication tends to be asynchronous. That is, people participate at different times, so even if everyone participating at the moment settle down, a little later someone else can look at the messages and get upset or defensive, and responds and the whole thing starts up again.

2) Because relationships are generally fragile online – we have relatively little contact with each other, and we only perceive a small amount of the complexity of a person, we tend to engage very heavily in projection and fantasy about what the other is like. This usually involves assuming that they are like 'good examples' of a particular category for us. Going back to the arguments about framing and social groups, if we, for example, assume that supporters of the Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott tend to be ignorant thugs, then if someone supports Abbot we will classify that person as an ignorant thug, even if we know absolutely nothing else about them (probably if we do know nothing else about them, the classification become more likely and easier to make) and if other people assume likewise (or make a similar classification, such as assuming a person who supports Tony Abbot, must be a virtuous person and one of them) then that classification is reinforced, and the argument gets taken over by existing social conflicts that have nothing to do with the people or the context involved. Anger present in everyday social life (as magnified by news media), finds a target, and frustration can be expressed.

3) Celebrity is important in networking. The more you are noticed then the more likely people are to keep noticing you, to follow your comments, and to acknowledge your existence. Celebrity also appears to offer people paying work, sponsorships, further publicity, opportunities that would otherwise have been unavailable for them and so on. It is often remarked that the media is full of people who are known for being known. the more people who are known for being known and who seem to profit by it, the more the effect is promoted and the more people try and get noticed, to cash in on that notice.

4) Offline politics and media commentary seems to be fuelled by the same principle, that is that being obnoxious, or slaying the enemies of the others, gets attention and promotes your views, which in turn promotes your audience and so on. Thus we have many TV and newspaper commentators who are not renowned for their knowledge (at least by those they attack), but who cultivate rudeness and annihilation of the opposition, even to the extent of making up information about their others and attacking them on those grounds. They may also try to remove spaces from which their opponents can speak, to silence their own pain at being opposed or insulted – this seems especially true of those who support their own rights of free speech and insult. In other words Trolling has become a normal part of political process in the information society; it attracts attention, gains audiences, and cuts down the 'data smog' of views which disagree with your own.

5) All the factors involved in trolling are increased by the structures of online communication, data overload, and social conflicts in the wider world. It is not just about people's mean sides - even their caring and mutually supporting sides can find expression easier and be magnified - but few people are interested in that

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