New University of Canterbury research into the behaviour of online trolls has revealed the many actors involved and a surprising number of benefits to trolling – and not just for the trolls.

When University of Canterbury (UC) doctoral student Maja Golf-Papez left a marketing career in Slovenia to start her research into mischief-making consumer behaviours among online trolls, she didn’t expect to be entertained or find benefits to trolling.

A postgraduate student with the College of Business and Law, Ms Golf-Papez initially thought trolling and cyberbullying were similar. She has come to realise they describe two distinct behaviours that need to be differentiated.

“Trolling is when someone is deceptive and mischievous. A troll typically has no intent to cause harm but is trying to provoke a reaction. Whereas cyberbullying is targeted with the purpose of causing harm to an individual person.”

In the pursuit of understanding trolling behaviour, she sought out trolls to interview. As she did so, she was trolled many times and found trolls had been removed or banned from pages before she got a chance to interact with them.

“Good trolls are elusive and, I find, highly intelligent characters. They know how to look after themselves and operate within but on the fringes of the law.”

Once she tracked them down, Ms Golf-Papez started her data collection by interviewing celebrity trolls.

As with other groups in all areas of society, a certain level of celebrity has been attached to individuals in the trolling community. Some of these trolls have half a million followers, who are eager to see what they’ll do next, encourage their behaviour, dress themselves as targets and ‘reward’ trolls in the online currency of likes, comments and reactions, both negative and positive.

– Golf-Papez M. and Veer E.

Read more: Feeding the Trolls? – The Roles and Benefits of Online Trolling

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