Being and a Trolling State of Electronic Hive Mind: (1) Organically Emergent/Evolved Troll Groups and (2) Created/Instrumented Troll “Armies”

Being and a Trolling State of Electronic Hive Mind: (1) Organically Emergent/Evolved Troll Groups and (2) Created/Instrumented Troll “Armies”

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9369-0.ch006


Trolling others, broadly defined as communicating provocative messages (and even threats) online, has been a pervasive part of the web and internet and even information and communications technology (ICT). While many consider trolling a net negative, some do suggest that it provides counter-viewpoints, encourages caution in mainstream participants online, and broadens conversations. This chapter studies trolling as a state of electronic hive mind and being in two main forms: (1) organically emergent, decentralized, and organically evolved troll coalitions for both personal member and group interests; and (2) created, instrumented, centrally supported/funded “troll armies” created for political and other purposes. Through the prism of “trolling,” a part of the electronic hive mind will be explored, the pathologically aggressive, angry, aggrieved, and vengeance-seeking side.
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Mundus vult decipi (The world wants to be deceived) - Sebastian Franck, Paradoxa Ducenta Octoginta (1542)

Trolling is “one of the most talked about issue(s) in relation to the internet in the second decade of the 21st century to date” (Bishop, 2013, p. 28), and it has been seen as an element of the dark side of cyberspace and the Internet along with “cyberbullying, addictive use,…online witch hunts, fake news, and privacy abuse” (Baccarella, Wagner, Kietzmann, & McCarthy, 2018, p. 431). “Trolling” refers to quarrelsome and upsetting behaviors by “trolls” who aim to “distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsroom, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain” (“Internet troll,” Oct. 15, 2018). Trolling may include “offensive communications, social shaming, cyberbullying, flaming…and other harassing exchanges via the Internet” (Ransbotham et al. 2016, as cited in Bacile, Wolter, Allen, & Xu, 2018, p. 61). These behaviors are in part a result of personality (with “extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability” predicting “proactive aggression” and “agreeableness and emotional stability” predicting “reactive aggression”) and “aggressive fantasy” (McCreery & Krach, 2018, p. 91).

The term itself comes from a practice in fishing. One research group explains:

Trolling, in fishing, is a method where one moves the fishing lines slowly back and forth, dragging the bait through the water and hoping for a bite. Trolling on social media is much the same—so-called trolls bait others by posting inflammatory lines (messages in the conversations block) or sharing inappropriate content (in the sharing block) and then wait for a bite on the line. The intent is to provoke members of an online community (groups block) and to disrupt normal, on-topic discussions, relationships, or reputations. The motivation for trolling is not to stimulate thought-provoking discussions but to sow discord on the Internet and get a rise out of people simply for the amusement of the troll. (Baccarella, Wagner, Kietzmann, & McCarthy, 2018, p. 435)

A “troll” as “a pejorative term for a disruptor or provocateur” (Meyer & McNeal, 2011, p. 118). Individuals and groups may be labeled based on the types of trolling they engage in, such as the term “misogynistic trolls” (Shaw, Sept. 2014), who harass females. Another description of trolls is as “keyboard warriors heavy on typing and tiny on feelings, they get a zing out of online aggression and what makes it attractive to trolls is the anonymity” (Mali, Jan. 2015, p. 36). The underlying motivation of trolls seems to be malice, with the intention “to aggravate, annoy or otherwise disrupt online interactions and communication” (Binns, 2012; Bishop, 2012a, as cited in Coles & West, Trolling the Trolls…, 2016, P. 233). Traditional forms of trolling suggest that most trolls act “primarily independent of each other, with no guidelines on ‘proper ways to troll’” (Klempka & Stimson, 2014, p. 3). Regardless, public online social spaces like the microblogging site Twitter are seen to be “unsafe” and “rife with misogyny and racial violence” and “cyber-violence” (Nagle, 2018, p. 86).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Griefing: Acts in order to cause trouble for opponents or others in immersive games or immersive virtual worlds (and other spaces).

Delusion: A belief that is generally debunked by evidence and/or rational argument.

Fraping (Facebook + Rape): The act of co-opting another’s social media presence and changing their personal data without their permission.

Trolling (Cybertrolling, Internet Trolling): The act of starting arguments in online social spaces by emotion-based messaging, such as calling out others, name-calling, sharing inaccurate information, posting off-topic messaging, and otherwise sharing disagreeable messages (including potentially threats).

Immersive Parasocial: The origination and maintenance of one-sided illusory followership (parasocial) relationships in perception-deep immersive virtual worlds and spaces.

Flaming (Flame-Baiting): The use of hostile expressions directed towards others as a criticism.

Troll (Cyber Troll, Internet Troll): A person who engages in disruptive behaviors online for various purposes.

Gendertrolling: Uses of gender-based insults and pejorative terms against others based on their gender identity.

Folie à Deux: A delusion of two people in close relationship whose interactions inform and maintain the shared psychosis, means “madness of two” in French.

Electronic Hive Mind: A synchronous temporal and informal patchwork of emergent shared social consciousness (held by geographically distributed people, cyborgs, and robots) enabled by online social connectivity (across a range of social media platforms on the web and internet), based around various dimensions of shared attractive interests.

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