Tag Archives: cyber bullying

Viewpoint – Trolling: annoyance or real threat?

This article is the first of a new series of Viewpoints from Harvard Business School, Sorbonne Business School and ESSEC Business School students and faculty.  Viewpoints section is dedicated to opinions and views that pertain to issues of broad interest to the cybersecurity community, typically, but not exclusively, of a nontechnical nature. Controversial issues will not be avoided but be dealt with fairly. Authors are welcome to submit carefully reasoned “Viewpoints” in which positions are substantiated by facts or principled arguments. Moreover, this section periodically hosts editorial debates in a Point/Counterpoint format in which both sides of an issue are represented.

Trolling: annoyance or real threat?

Viewpoint by Daniel Grieb, Flora Guise, Léontine Paquatte (ESSEC Business School)

 

Macy’s 2008 Thanksgiving Parade, New York City: American music artist Rick Astley surprises spectators with a live performance of his 1987 song “Never gonna give you up”. Leading up to his performance, the year 2008 saw the rise of a mass internet phenomenon called “Rickrolling”, where millions of users were enticed to click on hyperlinks leading to the music video of the Astley’s song. From this innocent internet prank, trolling has evolved to much more: during the US presidential election of 2017, the concern of the impact of trolling on the public’s opinion has become evident. This paper aims to explore the internet phenomenon “Troll” and will cover their motivations to their impact and current, relevant examples of trolling.

As the phenomenon of “trolling” is a rather recent emergence, there is still no clear, universally agreed upon definition in the academic field. However, a common definition reflects the most observed “trolling behavior”: it describes the act of agonizing others online “by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content” “with no apparent (…) purpose”. [1] [2] The troll’s motivation can be categorized in three categories: (1) Personal enjoyment (pleasure seeking through “trolling”), (2) Revenge (as a reaction to being trolled) and (3) Thrill-seeking (deriving joy from the reaction of others to their trolling behavior). [3] It becomes evident that the current definition and motivation associated with trolling focuses on the individual level: it assumes that trolling is exclusively done by individuals and with no external goal. However, numerous, recent examples, show that trolling has evolved.

Trolling basically manifests itself in a malevolent, interpersonal and antisocial individual behavior. Concretely its about “deliberately [provoking], upsetting others by starting arguments or posting inflammatory messages on online comment sections.”[4] The manifestation of individual trolling through online comment sections can be observed through the increasing phenomenon of cyberbullying, identity theft and cyberstalking, therefore putting flesh on the Dark Tetrad personality traits: narcissism, sadism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.

Quantitative analysis have shown that the online context tends to exacerbate psychopathic behaviors: anonymity, normlessness, asynchronicity on the internet are putting more psychological distance between the troll and his/her target, therefore encouraging him/her to have a sharper and more violent reaction than in an offline context.[5]

The impact of this individual cybertrolling can be seen on many aspects of the life of some victims ever since the phenomenon appeared: the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) identified behavior such as drug use, unhealthy diets and numerous other examples linked with cyberbullying.[6] Even though social networks and interpersonal websites have implemented rules and means of empeaching of trolls, the line between elements considered bullying and justified opinions is not clear, allowing internet trolls to adapt their behavior without being reprimanded.

Looking at the nefarious effect internet trolls can cause on an individual level, the threat of trolls on a societal level seems to arise.

The digital transition has brought the Greek ideal of the public agora to a brand new level: the internet turned into a global, geography-free space where almost anyone can express one’s opinion.[7] Roger Silverstone designated it in 2006 as the “Mediapolis”[8], where people can gather and participate to the virtual debate without being present, reminding the theory of “Global Village” of Marshall McLuhan.[9] It looks like the internet allowed us to become an egalitarian network society with a perfect level of freedom of speech. As it turns out however, that space of freedom became the playground of trolls and haters, breaking down this utopia and questioning models such as deliberative democracy: Trolls, fake news and hate speech occupy so much space on forums, that this may lead to eventually silencing some citizens as they do not want to become the target of trolls or to making citizens lose touch with what is true or not.[10] Disinformation, hate-speech and cyber-harassment have become real threats for democracies as they impede a reasonable, objective public debate which is the basis of this political system. It is therefore necessary to take measures to resolve this problem, however without falling into censorship: a very sensitive, but essential endeavor.

To illustrate this problem, let us take a look at the propaganda movement led by “Reconquista Germanica” that became active during the last Germany’s general election.[11] This group of online extremist used trolling to manipulate the election by spreading hate, fake news and Kremlin propaganda. The techniques used for their “Blitzkrieg against the Old Parties” proved to be very efficient. First, they trolled their opponents by spreading illegally obtained, compromising private content or even manipulated photos and collage, in the hopes that these would become “viral hits”. They also tried to manipulate public opinion by conducting a “war on information” with disinformation, hateful memes and bots sending automated messages. This way, Reconquista was able to get great visibility and influence the opinion particularly among a large proportion of undecided voters. Moreover, these techniques are becoming more and more professionalized and globalized since some groups of activists claim that they influenced Russian, American, British, German and French elections. They now apply very detailed action plans and have become organized world-wide. Yet, while it is still difficult to measure their real influence, trolls have become a cyber-threat that should in no way be neglected.

It became evident that internet trolling can become more than just a simple annoyance: the organized and strategic implementation of “trolling tools” on social media such as hate speech and doxing, can not only have a significant effect on the trolled “victims” but also on societies. Influencing public opinions has become the new goal of organized trolling networks and their first implementation prior to elections can be seen. While the lone internet troll may seem harmless, the influence and impact of an organized community of trolls should not be underestimated. Just like in many aspects in life, Paracelsus’ rule remains true – even on the internet: Sola dosis facit venenum “The dose makes the poison”. And the instrumentalization of this dose by different interest groups has become a new form of cyberthreat.

References:

[1] [2] Buckels, E. E., et al. Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences (2014); P.1

[3] Cook, C., et al.: Under the bridge: An in-depth examination of online trolling in the gaming context.; P.10f.

[4] Gammon J., Over a quarter of Americans have made malicious online comments, (2014)

[5] Nevin, Andrew D., “Cyber-Psychopathy: Examining the Relationship between Dark E-Personality and Online Misconduct” (2015). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 2926, P.170

[6] [7] Weichert S., From Swarm Intelligence to Swarm Malice: An appeal (2016)

[8] Silverstone R., Media and morality : on the rise of Mediapolis (2006)

[9] Mc Luhan M., Understanding media: The extensions of man (1964)

[10]Aro J., The cyberspace war: propaganda and trolling as warfare tools (2016)

[11]Von Hammerstein K., Höfner R. and Rosenbach M., Right-Wing Activists Take Aim at German Election, SPIEGEL Online (09/13/2017)

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES :

Literary references:

Aro J., The cyberspace war: propaganda and trolling as warfare tools (2016)

Buckels, E. E., et al. Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences (2014)

Cook, C., et al.: Under the bridge: An in-depth examination of online trolling in the gaming context (2014)

Gammon J., Over a quarter of Americans have made malicious online comments, (2014)

Mc Luhan M., Understanding media: The extensions of man (1964)

Nevin, Andrew D., “Cyber-Psychopathy: Examining the Relationship between Dark E-Personality and Online Misconduct” (2015). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 2926, P.170

Silverstone R., Media and morality : on the rise of Mediapolis (2006)

Von Hammerstein K., Höfner R. and Rosenbach M., Right-Wing Activists Take Aim at German Election, SPIEGEL Online (09/13/2017)

Weichert S., From Swarm Intelligence to Swarm Malice: An appeal (2016)

Online references:

Cdg.gov, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System page (2017), available at: cdc.gov

Merriam-webster, Definition of troll (2018), available at: merriam-webster.com