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Help needed to find out what makes young Internet trolls tick

Are there any particular characteristics that contribute to teenagers trolling? How often do they troll, and how often are they trolled? Asks Lead researcher, Dr Jessica Marrington

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 and 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.

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.

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

“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.

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