With the rise of serious cases of cyberbullying, cyberstalking and RIP trolling, trolls have started to receive considerable attention in the mainstream media. But defining trolling is not as easy as it seems - for most, there is only a very fine line (if any) between sheer impoliteness or rudeness and deliberately upsetting a community or luring people into frustrating arguments.
In a new study, Claire Hardaker set out to find and classify trolls. She analysed an 86-million-word USENET corpus to identify instances of perceived trolling, which were then classified based on the various strategies the trolls followed.
The classification of perceived trolling strategies range from not openly acknowledged (covert) to very obvious (overt) strategies, and include six types, as shown on the scale: (1) digressing from the actual topic, (2) criticising, for example aspects that are irrelevant to the content of the discussion, such as spelling, vocabulary or grammar, (3) anthipatising with the original poster or community, (4) endangering other by providing misleading information, (5) shocking others, in particular regarding very sensitive topics, and finally (6) aggressing others by threatening or insulting them.
While Hardaker's classification is a very useful tool for defining trolling behaviour, the danger of it is that it can easily become the justification for labelling people trolls. In particular, when it comes to disagreement in a debate, he accusation of someone being a troll is often only justified by the fact that they represent minority opinion and not by deliberate intention to upset or deceive the community.
The study repeatedly emphasizes that the analysis is based on how trolling behaviour is perceived, and not the actual intentions of the alleged trollers, and suggests that further research should incorporate both aspects. Volunteer trolls welcome.
Hardaker, Claire. 2013. "Uh..... Not to be Nitpicky, but... the Past Tense of Drag is Dragged, Not Drug.": An Overview of Trolling Strategies." Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 1 (1): 57-85.