In late July and early August 2013, the stories of Caroline Criado-Perez, the bomb threats, and latterly, the horrific tragedy of Hannah Smith broke across the media, and as a result, the behaviour supposedly known as “trolling” was pitched squarely into the limelight. There was the inevitable flurry of dissections, analyses, and opinion pieces, and no doubt like any number of academics in similar lines of work, I was asked to write various articles on this behaviour. Some I turned down for different reasons, but one that I accepted was for the Observer. (Here’s the final version that came out in both the Observer and the Guardian.)
Like the majority of people, I have been mostly in the dark about how the media works behind the scenes. That said, throughout my time at university, I have studied areas like Critical Discourse Analysis and the language of the media, and over the past three years, my work has been picked up a few times in small ways by the media, so I probably had a better idea than many. I realise now, however, that even with this prior knowledge, I was still pretty naive about the process. I wasn’t too surprised, then, when I got a number of comments on the Observer article raising exactly the sorts of questions I too would have asked before I’d gone through what I can only describe as a steep media learning curve. There were, essentially, three main issues that kept recurring:
(1) Why didn’t you talk about [insert related issue here]? This other thing is also important!
(2) Why didn’t you define trolling properly? This isn’t what I’d call trolling!
(3) Why did you only mention the negative types of trolling? There are good kinds too!
All three questions are interrelated in various ways, but I’ve artificially separated them out because each gives me a chance to explain something that I’ve learned about what happens behind the scenes during the process of producing media content.