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Where do these Trolls get Off? What Motivates Online Badmouthers and how to Bring them Back into the Fold

Media
Identity
Social Media
Communication
Technology
Kristian Bjørkdahl
Universitetet i Oslo
Kristian Bjørkdahl
Universitetet i Oslo

Abstract

Upon Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States, comedian Dave Chappelle quipped that, “We've actually elected an internet troll as our president.” The joke was pertinent, because it suggested that the sentiment felt by many liberals in response to Trump's victory – an urgent need to reconsider our own self-righteousness – could also motivate a reassessment of the internet trolls themselves. Typically ridiculed and rejected by the liberal (including academic) establishment as a group of irrelevant but dangerous wackos, there is good reason to acknowledge that internet trolls not only can think, feel, and argue roughly like the rest of us, but that they can vote as well. If we are to enlighten ourselves about those we – admittedly, quite arrogantly – have termed “trolls,” we must understand both a medium (online comments) and its users (online commenters). But we must also understand those who receive, and increasingly only observe, what takes place in this rhetorical arena. In this paper, I present a study of the online comments at the Norwegian daily tabloid, Dagbladet – which was the country’s first paper to accommodate this medium (1996), but also the first to close it down (2016). I study a selection of comment threads, and I interview editors, moderators, readers, and the commenters themselves, in a search for common ground between the trolls and those who keep hoping that trolls – as the fairytale goes – will explode when brought out into sunlight.