Skip to content

Research project to find what makes young Internet trolls tick

University of Southern Queensland researchers are investigating why young Australians troll on the internet.

Are there any particular characteristics that contribute to teenagers trolling?

How often do they troll, and how often are they trolled?  

These are just some of the questions researchers are seeking answers to as part of a research project investigating the online trolling behaviours of Australian adolescents.

The University of Southern Queensland-led project will examine the relationship between trolling behaviours and individual characteristics such as personality, self-esteem, empathy, and general well-being. 

Lead researcher, Dr Jessica Marrington, said the aim of the project was to gain an understanding of the frequency and reasons young people engage in trolling. 

“Despite the significant threats experiencing and perpetrating online trolling could pose to teenagers, research to date has primarily focused on adults,” Dr Marrington said.

“It is our hope the findings from this study will contribute to the development of evidence-based interventions and more effective education programs and resources on trolling for young people.” 

Dr Marrington said while trolling and cyberbullying both took place online, the two represented different forms of antisocial behaviour. 

“Cyberbullying is a more targeted and repetitive attack with the purpose of causing fear or harm to another person, but online trolling involves posting provocative and antagonistic comments, images, videos or other forms of online content to deliberately start an argument or get attention,” she said.

“Most young people carry out trolling because they think it is funny or harmless, but they may not know it can cause serious emotional and psychological harm to those affected.

“It can lead to lowered self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and in some cases suicide.”

Dr Marrington added trolling could also land people in hot water with the law.

“While online trolling is not classified as an illegal activity, there are criminal codes addressing antisocial online behaviours that could resemble trolling behaviours,” Dr Marrington said. 

“To reduce instances of these behaviours, a better understanding is required as to why these behaviours occur, particularly in a vulnerable age group.”

The researchers have launched an online survey and are seeking participants aged 13-18 years who have a social media account.

“This information will be extremely valuable in identifying which variables, such as empathy and self-esteem, are associated with trolling behaviour,” Dr Marrington said.

“These factors are key to being able to develop effective interventions that can minimise trolling behaviours, and therefore, reduce the incidences of adverse psychological effects on young Australians.

“I encourage parents to talk to their children about completing the anonymous questionnaire because their answers could go a long way towards stamping out trolling and other forms of antisocial online activity.”

For more information about the study and link to the survey can be found here.

lead researcher sitting next to computer
University of Southern Queensland researcher Dr Jessica Marrington.