Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Trolling of #MeToo: Audiences' Perceptions

Date of Award

2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Media and Communication

First Advisor

Joshua Atkinson (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Jill Zeilstra-Ryalls (Other)

Third Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Yanqin Lu (Committee Member)

Abstract

Troll messages and campaigns are part of contemporary social movements backlash (Khan, 2020). So, this study aims to understand trolling of a contemporary social movement i.e., #MeToo movement. Precisely, this study probes how audiences perceive trolling of #MeToo that they encounter. To respond to this question, I conducted in-depth interviews of 22 research participants whose ages ranged from 22-63. Built on data analysis, three important categories of perceptions of trolling emerged. They are, i) trolling as dialogic- engaging in dialogue and discussion, ii) trolling as discursive closure – used to suppress the voices of victim/survivor and #MeToo movement, and iii) trolling as enigmatic- difficult to understand as sexual assault is a complex situation. The first two categories are contrasting in their views as one is considered valuable while the other is considered detrimental to #MeToo. The third category participants pointed out about the complexities of sexual assault/harassment situations and could not adequately interpret the purpose of trolling. It is also important to note that most of the participants (five out of seven) who viewed ‘trolling as dialogic’ were men. Whereas most of the participants (six out of seven) who viewed ‘trolling as discursive closure’ claimed to be an activist or activist ally. So, based on the first two categories of perceptions of trolling and the dimensions of gender and advocacy that play into these perceptions I argue that trolling is perceived as an inherent part of online interaction informed by power struggle due to conflicting personal, political, or social opinions. This perception of trolling is indicative of polarization of social media and perhaps enables the sectarian animosity on these networking sites. And trolling therefore, can be designated as a political problem of the modern society.

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