The anatomy of a troll

My research focuses on online aggression, deception, and manipulation. For the past few years I’ve focussed quite closely on the behaviour known as “trolling” (though notably now this term is being used to refer to an increasing scope of behaviours that could be more accurately termed cyberbullying, cyberharassment, and cyberstalking). My plans with regards to this particular area involve finishing the third paper in what has affectionately come to be known as the “trolling trilogy” (or worse, the “trollogy”). This started with the 2010 paper which tackled the question, “what is trolling?” and continued with the 2013 paper which went on to investigate, “how is trolling carried out?” The third paper will discuss, “how do people respond (to trolling)?” Within this area of my research, I am also working on a monograph purely about trolling.

In the near future, I am moving towards doing more research into the manipulation aspect of online behaviour. This includes working with online grooming data in collaboration with undercover police forces, in order to identify the strategies of manipulation that child sex offenders use to groom children online, and to relate these to the ways that those individuals respond to police questioning. This also involves looking more broadly at what might be described as trust-fraud behaviours, such as Munchausen-by-internet (where individuals masquerade as sufferers of illness to acquire attention, sympathy, money, etc.), and online predation (where individuals gain a target’s trust online in order to meet them offline with the intention of offending against them in some way, e.g. theft, rape, murder).


Recent news associated with this project:

  • Turning the tables on the stalkers (19 November 2014)

    On 13th November, I presented a talk at a joint Paladin/Collyer-Bristow event. Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service, assists high risk victims of stalking throughout England and Wales. Collyer Bristow’s Cyber Investigation Unit (CIU), which is headed up by partner Rhory Robertson, comprises a dedicated team of lawyers who advise victims of cyberstalking, cyber harassment, cyber bullying and internet trolls/trolling. The major discussion ...

  • Sweepyface: a linguistic profile (6 October 2014)

    This morning brought news of the suicide of a media-branded ‘troll’. Brenda Leyland, the 63 year-old woman behind the @sweepyface Twitter account, a self-proclaimed “researcher” and “anti-McCann” advocate was found dead at a Marriott hotel on Saturday 4th October in Leicester. She was recently contacted by a reporter at Sky News regarding her Twitter activity ...

  • An afternoon with OFCOM (11 October 2013)

    In August I was invited to visit the Office of Communications (OFCOM) Southwark Bridge Road headquarters beside the Thames, to give a talk as part of Inside OFCOM – a series that has been presented at by such notable figures as Tim Wu, Vint Cerf, and Robert Peston, to name but a few! My remit ...

  • Writing for the press: the deleted scenes (12 August 2013)

    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 ...

  • Web of words: A short history of the troll (15 July 2013)

    Over the past fortnight, various broadsheets and media outlets (see bibliography) picked up the story of my recent article, ‘“Uh…..not to be nitpicky,,,,,but…the past tense of drag is dragged, not drug.”: An overview of trolling strategies‘ (2013), which came out in the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. Of the thousands of comments collectively posted ...

  • Dr Claire Hardaker takes part in Houses of Parliament Debate asking “Does the Punishment of Trolls Infringe on an Individual’s Freedom of Speech?” (20 June 2013)

    Yesterday, Dr Claire Hardaker (Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University) took part in a ministerial debate hosted by Steve Rotheram MP at the Houses of Parliament. Dr Hardaker specialises in linguistic aggression, deception, and manipulation, particularly online, and looks at behaviours such as flaming, trolling, cyberbullying, and online grooming. The roundtable, entitled, “Does the ...

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