Disassembling online trolling: towards the better understanding and managing of online mischief-making consumer misbehaviours

Golf Papez, Maja (2018) Disassembling online trolling: towards the better understanding and managing of online mischief-making consumer misbehaviours. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

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This thesis draws on actor-network theory to explore the assemblages of human and nonhuman entities that allow and perpetuate online trolling. Trolling is a form of consumer misbehaviour that includes deliberate, deceptive, and mischievous attempts to provoke reactions from other online users. Despite being a pervasive online consumer misbehaviour, affecting consumers, brands, and online sites that offer a medium for trolling, trolling is poorly understood. In particular, there is a lack of understanding of what trolling actually is, how it differs from other anti-social behaviours, how it comes about, and how it could be influenced. These questions are at the forefront of this study.

In disassembling trolling behaviours, this study adopts the actor-network theory (ANT) and practice-focused multi-sited ethnographic research approach. Five cases of trolling were investigated: playful trolling, good old-fashioned trolling, shock trolling, online pranking and raiding, and fake customer service trolling. Data collection included nonparticipant observation of trolling behaviours, in-depth interviews with trolls, shortelectronic exchanges with trolls and community managers, and review of trolling-related documents. Data analysis started with in-depth exploration of single actor-networks and continued with cross-case analysis, comparing and contrasting the actor-networks and building a general representation of the nature of trolling, the assemblages created in trolling, and the roles these assemblages play in the ‘doing’ of trolling.

In respect of the nature of trolling, this study has found that trolling behaviours are deliberate, mischievous, deceptive, and designed to provoke a target into a reaction. Trolling behaviours benefit trolls and their followers, and they typically but not necessarily have negative consequences for the people and firms involved. These characteristics of trolling suggest that trolling should be differentiated from other online misbehaviours, in particular cyberbullying.

Concerning the manifestation of trolling behaviours, this research has revealed that online trolling is performatively constituted by a collection of human and non-human entities interacting more or less in concert with each other. The study has identified nine actors participating in trolling: troll(s), target(s), medium, audience, other trolls, trolling artefacts, regulators, revenue streams, and assistants. Some of these actors (i.e., troll, target, medium) are playing a role in initiating, and other actors in sustaining trolling by celebrating it, boosting it, facilitating it, and normalising it. The findings highlight the role of other actors (apart from misbehaving consumers) in the performance of misbehaving and suggest that effective management of consumer misbehaviours such as trolling will include managing the socio-technical networks that allow and fuel these misbehaviours.

Better understanding of online trolling, as an instance of online and mischief-making consumer (mis)behaviour, contributes to a more rounded understanding of consumer misbehaviours, given that prior research focused on financially motivated or illegal misbehaviours, and on misbehaving in analogue retail settings. Focusing on the act of trolling itself, this ANT-inspired thesis extends previous research on consumer misbehaviours, and trolling, which almost exclusively adopted the dispositional perspective, focusing on studying misbehaving consumers. The original contribution also lies in providing a new definition of trolling behaviours and presenting a theoretical model of how trolling comes about and is nourished. This model has practical value, providing guidance to marketers on how trolling and similar mischief-making consumer (mis)behaviours can be stymied or, if so wished, bolstered.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > Strategy and Marketing
Depositing User: Maja Golf Papez
Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2019 12:56
Last Modified: 04 Oct 2020 01:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/82182

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