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Tuesday, July 28 • 14:46 - 16:15
"When trolls become newsworthy: an analysis of news reporting on internet trolling"

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Author: Yimin Chen

Writing in the context of Usenet newsgroups, Judith Donath was among the first researchers to describe internet trolls and characterized their actions as “a game of identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players” [1]. While the practice of trolling in online communities has always been controversial [2], events in recent years such as the Gamergate controversy [3] and a number of youth suicides [4,5] have pushed the issue of internet trolling more and more into the public eye. Many researchers and reporters have linked the term to online abuse and cyberbullying [6], while others maintain that trolling is really about harmless pranks and subversive humour [7]. This paper aims to add context and clarity to the discourse on trolling by analyzing how the subject is framed in the news. 


The mainstream media plays an important role in shaping public opinion on events and issues – particularly the news media, which is often taken to be a trustworthy source of information [8]. This framing effect of news has been well documented in the communications literature [9]. Taking news reports on internet trolling as representative of popular understanding, the goals of this study are to identify how trolling is framed in the news in two areas: 
1. What events and actions does the news associate with trolling? 
2. Who are the trolls in these reports and who are their targets? 


This study draws from an 11 year sample of English news articles from around the world that mention internet trolling. Content analysis was performed on these 240 articles, with coding focused on terms associated with trolling actions, persons and groups identified as perpetrators, and persons and groups identified as targets. 


Preliminary results suggest that news reporting on trolling is most often framed as a story about cyberbullying and online abuse, particularly over social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Furthermore, the majority of victims are either women, children, or celebrities. 

Future Work: 

This study is part one of a project aimed at exploring the contradictions and discrepancies surrounding the discourse on trolling: namely, that viewpoints tend to either focus on trolling as harassment and bullying, or on trolling as playful mischief. This part of the project is intended to examine mainstream opinions and conceptions of trolling, as represented by the news. Part two will seek to contrast this with views and opinions from the internet subculture to identify and explain the points of contention. 


[1] Donath, J. (1999). Identity and deception in the virtual community. In Smith, M. & Kollock, P. (eds.), Communities in Cyberspace (pp. 29-59). London: Routledge. 

[2] Coleman, G. (2012). Phreaks, hackers, and trolls: The politics of transgression and spectacle. In Mandiberg, M. (Ed), The social media reader (pp. 99-119). New York : New York University Press. 

[3] Sanghani, R. (2014, September 10). Misogyny, death threats and a mob of trolls: Inside the dark world of video games with Zoe Quinn - target of #GamerGate. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11082629/Gamergate-Misogyny-death-threats-and-a-mob-of-angry-trolls-Inside-the-dark-world-of-video-games.html 

[4] National Post Wire Services. (2012, October 17). Ontario man loses job after writing cruel Facebook comment about Amanda Todd. National Post. Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/cruel-facebook-comment-about-amanda-todds-suicide-costs-man-his-job 

[5] The Canadian Press. (2015, March 10). Rehtaeh Parsons's father speaks out about cyberbullying at UN. CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/rehtaeh-parsons-s-father-speaks-out-about-cyberbullying-at-un-1.2988471 

[6] Steffgen, G. & König, A. (2009). . Cyberbullying: The role of traditional bullying and empathy. In Sapio, B., Haddon, L., Mante-Meijer, E., Fortunati, L., Turk, T., Loos, E. (Eds.), The Good, The Bad and The Challenging: The user and the future of information and communication technologies: Conference Proceedings (Volume II), 1041-1047. 

[7] Phillips, W. (2011). Meet the Trolls. Index on Censorship, 40 (2), pp. 68-76. 

[8] McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public opinion quarterly, 36(2), 176-187. 

[9] Semetko, H. A., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2000). Framing European politics: A content analysis of press and television news. Journal of communication, 50(2), 93-109. 

avatar for Yimin Chen

Yimin Chen

PhD Candidate, University of Western Ontario

Tuesday July 28, 2015 14:46 - 16:15
(9th Floor) TRS 3-176 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

Attendees (9)