An Analysis of the Discourse of Internet Trolling: A Case Study of Reddit.com
With the proliferation of social media and community discussion and forum websites, interest in understanding and explaining communication on the Internet (with an emphasis on language-based communication) is on the rise. Over time, new genres of interaction have developed that take place primarily or exclusively in online communication, and with them has developed the need to investigate the structure of these interactions, what their function is within conversations and communities, what their place is within certain Internet discourses, and over time what effects they have on communication on and offline. Thus far many of these genres have been deemed at best disruptive and at worst anti-social, but when studied from a judgment-free point of view show high levels of complexity and offer us excellent opportunities to understand how the Internet is shaping and being shaped by new kinds and contexts of communication. One of these genres of interaction that has gained significant fame on some very popular forums and discussion sites is called trolling. Trolling occurs on discussion sites or message boards when a user intentionally posts erroneous or inflammatory information with the intention of provoking a strong reaction out of other users. The objective of this study is to understand the complexities of trolling, as well as some of its functions and outcomes in anonymous online communication. This study analyzes four online conversations between anonymous users, from the social aggregator website Reddit.com, using tools from the field of discourse analysis. The methodology of analysis draws from James Paul Gee’s (2010) toolkit for discourse analysis, combining linguistic and sociological observations to answer questions about not only the qualities of the language of the conversations, but also the functions and results of the use of this language. The combination of linguistic and social aspects of discourse includes questions about how participants structure their sentences, choose some words over others, etc. in order to draw attention to certain ideas, elicit particular reactions from other participants, create identities within an interaction, and ultimately shape the social structure of the communication. Through this analysis, strides have been made in applying methods from textual discourse analysis and conversation analysis to Internet communication, for which the boundary between text and orality is much less clear. Conclusions have also been made about the role linguistic and paralinguistic features, such as sentence structure and prosody, play in interactions that involve trolling. Generalizations based on the analysis of the data also lead to conclusions about the role trolling can play in influencing online communication in a setting like Reddit.com, by de-incentivizing certain behaviors.