An Ethnography about Internet Trolls

I had recently read an online ethnography about ‘Internet Trolls’ and their sub-culture. The ethnographer had spent years conducting participant observation and research within groups of trolls and trolling websites for the purpose of her dissertation. She researches various types of trolling and mentions RIP trolling as one form. This is when trolls target the pages of the recently deceased people. She tries her best to avoid any exposure of her true identity but this is no longer possible once her school had published the topic of her dissertation; media outlets reached out to her and her name had been posted on 4chan (One of the most notorious troll sites.

She is immediately blackmailed and receives death threats. The trolls threaten to send racy (implied) photoshopped pictures of her to her professors. She reacts to this in a panic and sends emails to all her professor with an attachment of the threats and her research till date. Upon reflection, the ethnographer concludes that this was not the best course of action because although she was familiar and adjusted to troll culture (i.e. “porn, not to mention the various points of trolling grotesquerie for which /b/ has become infamous” and various other x-rated materials) her professors were not.

She also recollects about an experience when she had to go on air and speak to a father whose deceased son’s page was targeted by trolls.  She was chatting with a troll whom she had met through her research while waiting for the show to start. After explaining what the show was going to be about, the troll said “Just remember, its not your job to defend us.” This made the author reflect, “although I was unwilling to apologize for the most problematic trolling behaviors, I was similarly unwilling to condemn all trolling outright.”

She writes that the goal she had in mind when she began researching trolling was to understand the trolls, to learn their custom and languages. She recalls the advantages of observing and participating in the trolling culture, “…this allowed me to see things about the subculture I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.”

The application of this ethnographical research is to prove a point and be used as evidence to support that ethnography not only as a means but as a skill can be an extremely valuable tool. It can help us understand and perhaps accept the meaning behind seemingly unfathomable things. In this increasing global world and society, being able to relate to people outside of one’s own culture and suspend judgement are instrumental to success. The reflective nature of ethnography encourages not only anthropologists but their readers to think deeply about their own daily lives and activities.