On fieldwork: digging too deep

Doing research online has sometimes quite unexpected results when you just begin googling for search words and end up clicking link after link. Today I wanted to search “memorial trolling” and “rip trolls”, which stand for a specific type of trolling with the intention to harass and disturb mourners in online memorials, such as in memorialized Facebook profiles or memorial videos on YouTube. One part of my current research is handling this area, but following the links and other material also resulted to discussions about the Deep Web.

I am very well aware of the disturbing material embedded in that area of the internet and with no desire to actually explore it, which is why I decided to see what others have thought of it and clicked a few YouTube videos explaining the concept and content of Deep Web. Unfortunately I ended up with the kind of sickening topics, and I do not wish to portray any of them here in detail, but only to note that the kind of evil this world holds has seized to amaze me. It just makes me sick to my stomach.

Jon Berkeley/Getty Images

When I explain – to anyone interested – about my current research of online violence, many of them usually ask my opinion what should be done to hate speech, bigotry, misogyny, bullying etc., and – especially – how they could be prevented and stopped. The interesting thing is, that these questions usually bear a small sign of hope, that it is possible to stop online violenceThat there is a way to end all the hate and malice. And to their disappointment, I usually answer in an elusive manner, since I do not want to ruin that small glimmering hope. I really wish there would be a way to just wave a star pointed wand and make it all better, but unfortunately the world does not work that way.

Of course there are laws, legislations and programs, apps and other ways to report, and often even catch the bad guys, but evil is like weeding. You plug one, there’s three more. Also, in my research, my intention is not to examine “how to stop them”, since it is not possible, but trying to create a deeper understanding of online violence, its complexity and nuances that are breeding new online cultures, both visual and textual. Online violence as a term is also very broad, which can contain anything from hateful commenting to actually violently harassing someone, such as with revenge porn. That’s why I have three case studies I will be conducting during this three-year project.

With this topic I also need to restrict myself for not going too deep and staying “at the shallow end”. It’s not only for my mental health, but also for my personal safety, since there’s no reason to bite the hand that “feeds” my research.

To get back to my initial topic, trolling, and to end this post on a lighter note, I have some great news as well: This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (2015) by Whitney Phillips is finally out! I have looked forward for this since the first time I heard about Whitney’s work in 2011 and I immediately ordered a copy from for myself. So excited! Will definitely get back to the book when possible.

In the meanwhile: play nice, people.

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