In this talk, Dr. Whitney Phillips (Communication Studies, Humboldt State University) will discuss her forthcoming book This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture (MIT Press 2015). Unlike most popular accounts of trolling, which place the problem of antagonistic online behavior squarely at the feet of participating trolls, Phillips will assert 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. Trolls’ behaviors may well be obscene, but as Phillips will illustrate, 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. This book isn’t just about trolls, in other words. It’s about a culture in which trolls thrive.
Having established the scope of her project, Phillips will then turn to an examination of trolling behaviors on Facebook, specifically in relation to memorial groups and fan pages. In addition to mapping the development of RIP trolling—in which online instigators post abusive comments and images onto pages created for and dedicated to the deceased—she will describe the highly contentious and ultimately parasitic relationship between memorial trolls and Facebook itself. As she will chronicle, trolls and Facebook were for many years engaged in a struggle of wills, a struggle that ultimately resulted in the successful pushback against the most outrageous trolling behaviors—thus providing a fascinating case study for how online platforms can, or perhaps should, attempt to combat unwanted user aggressions.
250 Sutardja Dao Hall, UC Berkeley