The president of the United States rushes in to take down a man in a wrestling ring. He throws a few solid punches to the victim’s face, which is covered with an overlay of CNN's logo, and walks away triumphantly as the crowd cheers.
This video clip was retweeted by President Donald Trump himself. Trolling, an act often associated with humour and light-heartedness has many sides, according to Yimin Chen, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University.
Trolling refers to an array of behaviour and activities on the internet, ranging from making cavalier comments on Facebook memes to darker acts of bullying.
Chen defines trolling as posting any form of content on the internet to provoke users into eliciting an emotional response. He traces its origins and characteristics from the etymology of the term itself: trolling is a technique used to bait and hook fish, drawing a parallel to fishing for reactions on the internet.
However, exploring trolling in an academic context is challenging. Chen, with research interests in online communication, internet culture and memes, acknowledges these difficulties. He describes the challenge of developing a consistent, all-encompassing methodology for something that is so inconsistent and variable.
“What I was looking for were terms and words associated with trolling as an internet activity," Chen says.
One of his methods included interviewing people he described as "internauts" — frequent users of the internet — and parsing out their views on trolling.
Addressing the implications of trolling specifically in a student environment, Chen says people troll for a variety of reasons, from eliciting laughter among friends to instigating a fight between strangers. With this in mind, and after numerous interviews and interactions with the trolls and the trolled, Chen has found what he feels is the best method to deal with trolling.
"One of the best things to do is not engage with it. Or if you do, do it as calmly as possible," says Chen.
Speaking to the trollers, Chen advises they critically reflect on how their jokes could be perceived and whether it comes across as funny or offensive.
“Sometimes it’s just fun to try to see who can outwit who in playing jokes and being witty,” he says, talking about context.
But at the same time, if someone is trying to antagonize others, it can be better to act nice and diffuse the trolling. “Kill them with kindness,” as Chen says.
Overall, Chen thinks the solution to counteract the ramifications of trolling is awareness. This includes being able to recognize the familiar cues of trolling and how to respond to trolling. He says there is an impending need for internet literacy to address problems with trolling.
Ultimately, Chen believes trolling is a sort of artistic expression with a number of aspects of artistic behaviours associated with it. It is a show of creativity and is highly performative, with trolls often seeking the attention of an audience.
“There is a creative drive to trolling. You want to show people what you can do,” says Chen.