February 13, 2014 § 38 Comments
It is with great excitement, gratitude, and relief (all of the emotions really) that I can finally officially announce that my book on trolls (a millionth-degree revision of my PhD dissertation) will be published by The MIT Press in early 2015.
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture chronicles the emergence and evolution of online trolling, a wildly popular behavioral practice predicated on meme creation, forum raiding, and general disruption. It focuses specifically on behaviors born of and associated with 4chan’s /b/ board, one of the Internet’s most infamous and active trolling hotspots.
Pulling from thousands of hours of participant observation, dozens of formal interviews with participating trolls, and a careful reconstruction of the history of online trolling, the book argues that the so-called troll problem is actually a culture problem. Not only do trolls fit comfortably within the contemporary American media landscape, they effortlessly replicate the most pervasive—and in many cases outright venerated—tropes in the Western tradition. Trolls may take these tropes to their furthest and most grotesque extremes, but at a very basic level, trolls’ actions are born of and fueled by culturally sanctioned impulses, immediately complicating the impulse to condemn trolls for their obscene and seemingly deviant behavior. These behaviors may well be obscene, but as this book illustrates, the most surprising thing about trolling is that it isn’t all that deviant. In fact, in ostensibly non-trolling contexts, similar behaviors are regarded as perfectly acceptable, if not desirable. Ultimately then, the book isn’t just about trolls. It’s about a culture in which trolls thrive.
This truly has been a long, weird road; for anyone interested in taking a trip down memory lane, here I am comparing my dissertation to The Human Centipede; here I am fretting about losing the ability to speak English during my dissertation defense; here I am smashing my head against the table post-deposit; here I am likening the process of writing a dissertation to The Shining; here I am dancing around the complex psycho-sexual relationship I have with my manuscript; here I am discussing my overall writing process and offering some SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK OR DISSERTATION tips. Good times!
July 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today Nick Thompson of CNN published a long article on trolling, including quite a few quotes from yours truly. Here’s some from that article:
While Whitney Phillips agrees that anonymity plays a role in someone’s propensity to spew bile down Facebook walls, Twitter pages and news website comment boards, she says the bile was there first, just waiting to be hurled out at unsuspecting passers-by in cyberspace.
“The problem with blaming anonymity is that it assumes people are only horrible anonymously. Search a racial slur plus Obama on the internet and you’ll see more people than is reasonable who are perfectly happy being disgusting bigots under their own name.”
Is it possible to separate your online behavior from who you really are? Many trolls reject any relation between their profiles on the Web and their real life personas, according to Phillips, and say they are merely performing in order torment their targets “for the lulz,” or to teach people a lesson.
“Some trolls think that spending your time posting condolence messages on Facebook to someone you’ve never met is weird, and grounds for being trolled. They think they’re teaching people a lesson, teaching people how to behave online.”
Ultimately, Phillips says, it’s impossible to definitively say what makes trolls tick when you don’t have any demographic details about them. “We can’t very easily or in any kind of verifiable fashion sit a troll down and ask him what is in his heart, and if you could he would lie. They would tell you some bulls**t about what’s in their heart.”
I like the part about how CNN quotes me as saying “bullshit.” The full article is worth a read, and can be found here!
May 20, 2013 § 1 Comment
New article on trolling on definitions! The setup: These days apparently everything on the internet that is lame/upsetting is “trolling.” This framing isn’t doing us any favors! From the article:
[I concede that language shifts over time; I’m not mad, bro] But describing all problematic online behaviors as trolling and all online aggressors as trolls is a bad idea. Not because there is only one “correct” way to troll, as some trolls might insist, but because using the term as a stand-in for everything terrible online is imprecise, unhelpful, and—most importantly—tends to obscure the underlying problem of offline bigotry and aggression.
For the thrilling conclusion, go here.