Why Do Trolls Become Trolls?

Nowadays we often spend much time on websites or some kind of social media. We expect to relax for a while or get some useful information from them. Many websites and social media will offer some places which users can make comments there. We can see various people leave some interesting, boring or spam messages just at the bottom of the web pages or below the new posts. However, in addition to what I mentioned above, there’s a really disturbing sort of people existing in the cyber space. They just do whatever they want, say something very rude, dirty, obscene even about personal attacks. Sometimes they may say some repeated words through the whole page just like dumping  trash into a trash can—here the special “trash can” is somewhere in the cyber space. If others reply to them and become angry, they may even have some fun from the attention from others.

Why do trolls become trolls? I think the one of the important reason is about the background in the online virtual society. According to Studying the Digital Self by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, “some users regard online identities as only virtual, a matter of choice and invention among avatars, roles, and subject positions”(1). Obviously, trolls are just like what Smith and Watson said in the article, they deem cyber space as places which they do not need to obey, follow any rules or protocols. Nevertheless, there are some rules on the web. But these rules cannot provide enough restrictions to trolls. Here’s an example about Twitter. I noticed that the CEO of Twitter said “sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked at it for years” (2). We know that Twitter may delete some inappropriate tweets but they need some time to do that. They can’t do that instantly, so trolls still have a chance to say something which is “effective” to them on Twitter. And once their accounts were locked, they can just sign a new one and continue their identity as trolls. Some people can be trolls with very little cost even no cost at most of the time. So trolls haven’t been eliminated on Twitter yet. The CEO of Twitter said: “We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day” (2). The “free play” (1) on the Internet offers an environment that some people can be trolls only with a very limited restriction.

Another explanation is about the social identities. In the society, “power and access are asymmetrically distributed across differences of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and other variables.” (1) Although some celebrities with check marks are more confidential and there are some privileges which can be bought by money, most of the users are de facto equal when they want to make comments. So some people realized that they got more freedom then they were in the real life. They don’t have a chance to do what they can do as a troll in the real life because of the limits of their social identities. But now people can have two identities. One is the identity as a civilian in the society, and another one can be a celebrity at somewhere on the Internet. So it’s common to see a person is not troll in the real life and at the same time, he or she is in the chat room, social media or forums. But according to Studying the Digital Self, “identity ‘play’ cannot erase the intersecting, historically specific aspects of offline social identities.” (1) No matter what identities they may have online, these identities may reflect their social identities somehow. I don’t think that a well-educated, kind and respectful scholar will easily be an online troll. What he or she did on the Internet is a reflection of their social identities. By the using the same idea to infer the social identities of trolls, some trolls may have some failures recently or may be under too much pressure in their workplace. Some people may ask “is there any instinctive trolls?” I don’t know, but I tend to believe that most of the people are not bad even they are online trolls, and there must be some reasons or backgrounds which lead them to be trolls.

  1. Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.


  1. Hern, Alex. “Twitter CEO: We Suck at Dealing with Trolls and Abuse.” Twitter CEO: We Suck at Dealing with Trolls and Abuse | Technology | The Guardian. The Guardian.com, 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.



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