Spring 2015

How Trolls Thrive and Survive

Communication instructor and alum Whitney Phillips’ recent book, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture traces the emergence and evolution of online trolls, who post inflammatory, upsetting, and off-topic comments on the Internet to elicit reader reactions.

In the book, Phillips looks specifically at the birth of trolls on 4chan, an imageboard site and one of the Internet’s most active trolling hotspots. Drawing on thousands of hours of participant observation, dozens of formal interviews, and research, Phillips argues that the troll problem is actually a culture problem.

“The problem is with the culture,” explains Phillips. “It’s not that trolls should be let off the hook ethically,” she says “but the culture that allows these bad behaviors to flourish—sexism, racism, ableism, identity-based harassment—needs to be addressed. Trolling just naturally emerges out of this cultural milieu.”

Phillips is a 2004 graduate of HSU’s Philosophy Department. Her academic specialties include computer-mediated communication, online antagonism, digital ethnography, participatory media, American pop culture, and humor.