Internet trolls: Inciting the censorship versus free speech debate

Meet the trolls

From Index on Censorship

This article examines trolling subcultures revealing what they are and how they operate. It considers how attention to the movement has placed trolling squarely at the centre of emergent debates surrounding online censorship. It recognizes this group of internet users as an anonymous community that circulates exploitative messages. Trolls meet the following basic profile: they self-identify as trolls, they tend to be intelligent, playful, mischievous, and antagonistic. They deliberately court controversial and transgressive humor to inflict emotional distress and regularly invade people’s privacy. Trolls are as likely to circulate racist messages as to harass members of the KKK. They are equal-opportunity offenders.

In the US, trolling is, for the time being, protected by the First Amendment. More and more fre­quently, however – in both America and in Britain – trolling is equated with ‘cyberbullying’ (a problematic term in itself) and therefore risks being legally categorised as fighting words (an offence in the US) and/or outright harassment. Whether or not one regards trolling as morally or politically distasteful, the impulse to silence trolls embodies the brewing fight within and between governments regarding the perceived necessity for online censorship.



A loose community of anarchic and anonymous people is testing the limits of free speech on the internet. Whitney Phillips interviews one of them

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Article details
Phillips, W. (2011). Meet the trolls Index on Censorship, 40 (2), 68-76 DOI: 10.1177/0306422011409641

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