Lecture: What Makes a Real Troll?
An Analytical Approach to the Definition of Internet Trolling
“Don’t feed the troll!” is a phrase commonly encountered in online forums. In recent years, however, trolling has come to the attention of the public at large and the media, with newspapers often declaring that someone is being targeted by trolls. Unfortunately, the news article usually does not define what exactly is meant by a troll. This is a rather common problem on which linguists and other researchers have worked on since the early 2000s (cf. Herring et al. 2002).
In research, the definition of what trolling is has a long history and is entwined with the invention of the internet. While in the past, the definition was examined from the perspective of impoliteness and often seen as being connected to flaming (cf. Hopkinson 2012), in recent years it has become a rather fuzzy term. This is partly due to the inherent understanding of what constitutes a troll.
Starting from the origin of the term ‘troll’ and its first appearance in internet culture, I will first give an overview over the development of the definition, how it is used today online and offline. Furthermore, the fuzziness of the term and what this does to the general and specific discourse will be of interest. For this purpose, I will present the most common definitions of trolling, mainly from linguistic research and present a small study of how the term is used in English speaking news media in spring 2019.