Hate speech and trolling

The rise of hate speech and trolling is linked to polarising effects of filter bubbles and echo chambers. A troll is an anonymous user who deliberately provokes antagonistic reactions for sheer enjoyment. Trolling is aided both by the ease of creating anonymous online profiles and by the atomised nature of internet interaction. Trolling can pose a direct threat to opportunities when it becomes systematically targeted towards minority groups in order to deliberately cause emotional distress. Remaining anonymous makes individuals more likely to escape prosecution for the more egregious examples

Racialised hate speech (otherwise known as cyber racism) is specifically targeted towards ethnic minority groups, and has become increasingly coordinated in recent years, through the rise of the “alt-right”. It encourages affected groups to retreat to safe locations, rather than engaging with national debates and institutions.

Sexualised hate speech is primarily targeted towards women (together with members of the LGBTQI community), and is characterised by its specifically misogynistic nature. It is often directed towards women in the public eye, or those in influential positions, such as journalists, with proponents directing critical attention onto their supposed essential gender characteristics, rather than their work. It has a negative impact on efforts towards the broadening of the public sphere, as women are discouraged from writing what they may feel are controversial stories.

More generally, research has found a correlation between strong, vocal disagreements with an individual’s perspectives and a “spiral of silence” which acts to curtail the voicing of contentious opinions by minority groups. The particular ability of trolls and hate speech to fan antagonistic “flames” rather than promote rational debates, has a direct impact on democratic participation.