ONLINE aggression can be beneficial on establishing one’s identity.

For one, anonymity and non-personal contact does not heavily demand accountability nor does it pose immediate and decisive threat to offline identities, said University of the Philippines-based sociologist Maria Corinna Priscila D. Escartin.

Online posts, Escartin wrote in her study published in the 2015 issue of the Philippine Sociological Review” can be considered a walk on a tightrope because norms and expectations can vary for every social networking site.

“Cyber reality presents a highly subjective space for social interactors online; in many cases where online moderators are weak or absent, it is borderline-normless because there is no concretely established authority that can effectively and absolutely arbitrate,” according to Escartin’s “Rogue Cops Among Rogues: Trolls and Trolling in Social Media Sites.”

Indeed, trolling has also become an online “entertainment past-time.”

Escartin cited how trolling enhanced the status of an online user by attracting readers’ attention, upsetting people and sparking heated debates in an attempt to gain approval from others.

True, it can promote narcissistic motives, especially if the online identity of a user is different from his or her offline identity
But it can become an entertaining past-time since “it requires no skill other than the ability to be obnoxious to others.”

In many discussion boards, Escartin said instances of combative and aggressive verbal behavior appear to have a positive cultural value and enjoy prestige or status.

This explains the prevalence of provocation and insults between trolls and the core community members.

Such behavior, Escartin said also serves to entertain the spectators who have no direct participation.


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What do trollers want?

Escartin said that respondents that she tapped generally spent about six hours a day using a variety of social networking websites.

The individuals who participated in her study spent about six to eight hours on social networking sites. Practically everyone used Facebook, and many others also used Twitter and YouTube.

Their main reason websites was to keep in touch with family and friends. Other share different types of media such as music, videos and picture, and while some would want to expand their professional network and linkages.

But all of them also indicated that they found that all social networking sites actually have trolls.

With the exception of 4-Chanm 9Gag and Reddit – websites notorious for humorous and mischief-laden posts, majority of the respondents noted that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were networking sites where one finds “high trolling” activity.

Respondents felt a troll goes on social networking with posts ranging from funny, annoying to insulting that can possibly provoke others to engage in unnecessary conflict.

Although trolling was mostly seen as annoying and attention-seeking activity, Escartin said it can also be a form of self-expression where online users can seek a response from the community.

Trolling can also be considered as a status-enhancing activity since it attracts others to a spectacle and incites them to present a feedback.
Respondents felts that they would most likely respond to the troll’s post “given that they deem it ‘went too far.’”

Escartin said trolls were perceived as individuals who take advantage of an opportunity to criticize by ridiculing a subject.

Some reportedly perceived trolls as individuals who feel “too privileged” to express insulting remarks, But she said that respondents suggested that this was because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and sometimes anonymity, made trolling predatory.

According to Escartin, she found that many of the respondents had not been direct victims of trolling, but they have admitted having engaged in trolling and found it to be an “entertaining activity to pass the time.”

She said that this resonated to a previous study that trolling was often done for personal amusement.

But she also noted that there was perception that trolling as an activity that unavoidably involves sarcasm and conscious attempt to discredit a post.

She said that trolling was perceived as a successful when it reaches a certain number of reactions from the threads or comment section.
In her study, Escartin said that with popularity comes aggression.

She noted how respondents perceived trolling as a performance, the activity can be fun and yet there is also a certain prestige attached to it, regardless of whether the attention garners positive or negative feedback.

Her study, she said reflected on a similar study on adolescent students where a “rise in social status for both males and females is accompanied by subsequent increase in aggression until the student approaches the top of the social hierarchy.

Escartin noted that one study already took the notion of power as a step further by suggesting that trolling is a form of “political behavior.”

“Because trolls continue to feed on acknowledgement, whether as a positive or negative recognition, aggression does not arise simply out of whim but become a necessary factor in crafting and maintaining their identity,” she said.

To be continued

Joel C. Paredes

Joel briefly served government as director-general of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), although he has been a practicing journalist and writer for nearly 37 years. He led a team organized by the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB)  and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that worked on the book entitled “Protecting our Natural Wealth, Enhancing our Natural Pride.”