Who says trolling doesn’t pay? A new study published in the Journal of Marketing Management has revealed that online trolls are receiving tangible and psychological rewards for their actions. The report also states that these trolls are receiving financial compensation for it too.
According to Newsweek, the study was conducted by Maja Golf-Papez, a postgraduate student from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Her intention, the article says, was to examine the “phenomenon” of online trolling from the business/marketing side of things.
Golf-Papez said that she tried to interview some trolls for her research, but soon learned that they were difficult to find because they had been banned from some of the more popular platforms online.
“Good trolls are elusive and, I find, highly intelligent characters,” she said. “They know how to look after themselves and operate within but on the fringes of the law.”
But she did end up speaking to a couple of trolls who had achieved notoriety within their communities. Some of them, Newsweek reports, had even accumulated millions of followers on social media.
Furthermore, she found that some trolls are being paid by brands to act as “customer service reps” to “respond to complaints and questions in a way the brand couldn’t or wouldn’t usually.”
The research also establishes the difference between trolling and cyberbullying. The two are often conflated, as Golf-Papez concluded that trolls are subversive, anarchic characters who are trying to get a reaction out of people. Her study concludes that their intent is not inherently malicious. Cyberbullies, on the other hand, are trying to inflict emotional and psychological harm.
Although they may not intend to cause harm, their actions often do, which the study acknowledges. Despite that, Golf-Papez also questions whether online trolling has become just another form of entertainment.
Their victims probably don’t feel that way.
Golf-Papez’s academic supervisor and paper co-author, Associate Professor Ekant Veer, has praised her research for examining online behaviors that had previously been ignored by the academic community.
“We know little about what motivates online mischief makers, their drivers, and the community that surrounds them, supports them and encourages them in their practices,” he said.
He added that the paper can also help us understand “actor-network theory” and define and explain online trolling activities and demonstrates that trolling is a multidimensional practice that has advantages and disadvantages.
In the introduction to the paper, they state that the benefits of trolling can include increasing traffic to a website, driving engagement in online communities, and generating product awareness.
Golf-Papez and Ekant Veer’s paper is titled “Don’t feed the trolling: rethinking how online trolling is being defined and combated.” It appears in The Journal of Marketing Management.