A Troll by Any Other Name: Naming and defining *that* behavior on social media

What is trolling anyways? Or cyber harassment anyways? Or online harassment? Are these all terms for the same thing? Or perhaps it’s a ‘know it when you see it’ phenomenon?

The term trolling was first coined by a woman named Whitney Phillips, an internet scholar, way back in the 1990s when the internet was still shiny and new. She defined it as,

“disrupting a conversation or entire community by posting incendiary statements or stupid questions onto a discussion board…for the troll’s own amusement, or because he or she was a genuinely quarrelsome, abrasive personality.”

So clearly there is an element of self-satisfaction in trolling. This goes beyond simply posting something a person genuinely believes (though this can still be the case), a troll is deliberately incendiary and reactionary. The point of trolling is not simply to express a belief or state a point of view but to enrage and hurt as many people as possible.

But how does this effect women specifically?

Karla Mantilla, a scholar and writer, describes it as “a relatively new kind of virulent, more threatening online phenomenon than the generic trolling described by Phillips.”

Gendertrolling is distinct because of these six key features:

  1. Coordinated participation of multiple people to overwhelm the victim. There can be upwards of a hundred attacks in short periods of time with the purpose to simply crush the victim under the deluge.
  2. Gendered insults that are geared towards women (slut, whore, cunt, etc) and insults designed to humiliate women such as comments on weight and appearance.
  3. Vicious language, or hateful language, often describing what the (usually male) troll will do to the victim.
  4. Credible threats of bodily harm, such as rape, death, torture, and doxxing threats. This also includes ordering packages to the victim’s home and work and encouraging others to join in the gendertrolling.
  5. Prolonged attacks of severe intensity and scope. Gendertrolling has included trolling across multiple platforms, spilling into real life, and into the victim’s friends, family, and work.
  6. Gendertrolling often occurs when women speak out on issues that affect them, such as sexism.

These are a few of the characteristics that define the scope of gendertrolling. It can be helpful to compare gendertrolling to other offline forms of gender-based harassment such as street harassment. Street harassment, for example, is not about being able to compliment women or simply chat with women a man might see on the street.

Harassment is about publicly displaying one’s own power, as a man, over women. It is about policing those hierarchies and making sure that women know and understand their place in relation to men’s. This is done to keep women in their subservient roles. And, as we can see, harassment is done by using insults, hate speech, and threats of violence.

Gendertrolling uses the above forms of harassment to keep women out of male-dominated spaces online. Women are literally pushed out of these digital spaces by these forms of intimidation. And, as we will see gendertrolling is highly effective in doing this.


Works Referenced:

Mantilla, Karla. “Gendertrolling Misogyny Adapts to New Media.” Feminist studies, vol. 39, no. 2, 2013, pp. 563–570., proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxyau.wrlc.org/docview/1667353433?accountid=8285.



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