The term trolling entered public relations practice with the advance of Internet technology, Web 2.0, the explosion of social media and the increasing reliance on computer-mediated communication (CMC) by practitioners. Trolling is described as the posting of provocative, often deliberately misleading and pointless, comments with the intent of provoking others into conflict and/or meaningless discussion. A troll is a CMC user who constructs the identity of a person wishing sincerely to be part of an online community, but whose real intentions are to disrupt normal discussion for the purposes of their own amusement.
The term trolling refers to the actual posts and comments (trolls), to a person making such postings (troll, troller), or to the action of posting (to troll). Research offers several insights into the origin of the term. An analogy with fishing suggests that trolling entails luring others, much like fishing where a baited line is dragged behind a boat to provoke a feeding frenzy among fish. The term may also be rooted in mythology and refer to a fictional character that hides in caves and lures in innocent bystanders.
Research on trolling utilizes the term in a variety of ways and often refers to a generally negative online behavior. A troll posting usually consists of intentionally incorrect messages, poor advice and/or apparent contradiction to common knowledge, thereby causing others to correct them and provoking an emotional response. Trolls draw their confidence from a high degree of anonymity and a greater control of self-presentation provided by the Web. This anonymity often leads to the loss of self-awareness and causes individuals to exhibit negative online behavior and act against many socially acceptable norms of communication. Such behavior is manifested through trolling—posting incendiary comments using abusive language, harsh criticism, personal insults, anger, and hatred.
Trolling presents new challenges for practitioners who include blogging, social media and other types of CMC in their toolbox. Nevertheless, trolling can be managed in several ways. Research suggests that removing or reducing the degree of online anonymity helps normalize extreme behavior both online and offline. One obvious solution for this is to allow only officially registered users to post comments on websites and blogs. This approach became more accessible for many organizations with the introduction of “Facebook comments,” which allowed users to comment using one's Facebook profile and significantly reduced the likelihood of a website attack by trolls.
The lack of anonymity, however, may weed out legitimate users who want to share sensitive information and wish to remain anonymous. Moderation and gamification may help organizations address this concern. Moderation of websites, blogs, and forums may range from “report abuse” button, to premoderation to postmoderation. Gamification engages online communities to judge whether a particular troll deserves their attention by ranking users’ comments. Thus, when negative comments receive low ranking, they end up at the bottom of the list where they do not attract as much attention and therefore do not disrupt normal online discussion.
See also Blogs, Vlogs, and Microblogs, Chat, Social Media, Web 2.0, Website
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