Edited By Jason Wilson, Christian McCrea and Glen Fuller
A great deal of thinking about the Internet and politics is still structured by a desire for deliberative democracy. From 1993 – when Howard Rheingold enunciated one of the Internet’s key founding myths – the virtual community – scholars have sought and found communities characterised by a mutuality of interests, a common purpose, a collaborative striving to renovate the democratic ideal, a tendency towards the “regulative idea” of the ideal speaking position, and an acknowledgement of the obligations of citizenship within the political association. For so long the Internet has continued to function, in Barbrook’s formulation, as a “redemptive technology”. Social media is just the latest in a long line of technologies which may, on a certain vision, rescue liberal democracy, with its decaying civic life and corrupt media, from itself.
There is, proportionally, too little attention to the everyday conflicts that haunt all such communities. Some conflict is temporary, and can be accounted for in terms of long-standing democratic theory. But some conflict is persistent, intractable. Some of it is gratuitous, and deliberately disruptive. Online, those who bring it about are often subject to normative disapprobation. Sometimes people call them trolls.
“Troll”, as a term of moral opprobrium, indicates an online actor who is not interested in deliberation, but in derailing it. Trolling is not apt to be captured by network maps or visualisations of online publics, because these teachniques cannot discern which nodes in a conversational network are created in bad faith, or in a spirit of disruptive play. Trolls are not interested in redeeming democracy through deliberation, and they mock attempts to do so. Trolls respect no procedural rules, though they may be generative of them. Trolls are the constitutive outside of online communities of political discussion, they are the intolerable of the most tolerant communities. Trolls are usually someone else, defined from our own position and interests. When they are not, and we inhabit trolling, we discover that trolling requires know-how, close reading, experience, sometimes sympathy with those we would disrupt.
What are the consequences to seeing trolling and other forms of affective behaviour as the norm, rather than the aberrant? The discourse of digital art has long since told this story, but the intellectual desire for open and constitutive democracy has overridden the ‘actually existing democracy’ of bullying, trolling, threats, inane memes and low signal-to-noise ratios. What would happen if we started to think of trolling as the central practice in online discourse? What if trolling is the Internet’s signature mode of discursive politics? What if we started to think about trolling as a practice which is generative rather than destructive?
This special issue of fibreculture seeks a range of perspectives on trolling, online conflict and incivility. Twenty years on, it looks to interrogate the founding myth of virtual community with accounts of generative conflict, strategic incivility, and productive trolling.
We seek papers on a range of topics not limited to:
- Trolling, activism and politics
- The persistence and ubiquity of online conflict
- Trolling as a business model: the mainstream media and clickbait
- Gendered aspects of trolling and incivility
- 4chan and trolling; activism and meme factories
- Trolling and cyberbullying
- Complaints about trolling and the “hatred of democracy” – are complaints about trolling really an attempt to re-gentrify political debate?
- Cultures and rituals of trolling – troll culture and the celebration of lulz
- Trolling and “cyber-bullying”
- The Internet and agonistic politics
- Trolling and counterpublics
- The grammar of trolling
- Trolling as the glitch in social network analysis and “big data”
- Popular culture, trolls and the democratization of politics
- Tabloid media, professionalization of trolling and the economics of opinion
- Trolling as cyber-bullying, internet as masochistic survivalist playground
- The pleasures of trolling
- Trolling the trolls
- The art and ‘new aesthetics’ of trolling
- The gamification of trolling
Please note that for this issue, initial submissions should be abstracts only
abstract deadline: October 15, 2012 (via email, to Jason Wilson, email address below)
article deadline: January 15, 2012
publication aimed for: April/May, 2013
all contributors and editors must read the guidelines at;
before working with the Fibreculture Journal
email correspondence for this issue: