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Social Media Trolling: Provocative or Proactive?


Social media trolling is often synonymous with aggression, provocation, and instigation.

Tolling, which some view as akin to cyberbullying, is a way of gaining attention via the internet by writing harsh criticisms of online personalities.

These so-called “social media trolls” are rarely ever considered to be the good guys in our society; it is largely a form of harassment in extreme cases.

Most people in today’s technological world have a general idea of what a social media troll is and do well to distance themselves from taking part in this hurtful act while others make it an integral part of their online persona.

The Army Cyber Institute has broken down the conception of the social media troll into two subcategories: (1) a classical troll and (2) a hybrid troll. According to their cyber defense review the classic troll is a social media user who, for purely personal reasons, tries to disrupt social network conversations by offending other users, provoking, and posting unpleasant comments for writing comments out of context.

The hybrid troll, on the other hand, is a kind of social media warrior who is hired by either a state or a non-state organization to support a given organization’s cause and assist in executing its agenda.

However, it is important to note that neither of these defined subcategories imply that a social media troll can perform their trolling for a positive and just reason.

Surprisingly enough, with the rise in popularity of social media platforms like TikTok, there has also been a spike in positive social media trolls. Two examples of these positive social media trolls are: Lance Tsosie and Drew Afualo.

Trolls for Social Justice or Trolls of Social Justice?

Lance Tsosie, 31, is a master’s student at the University of Denver and is a Navajo Nation Native who began advocating for Native American rights on TikTok in the beginning of 2020.

Tsosie’s TikTok content centers around responding to racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic TikToks posted by other creators.

With every video, Tsosie starts off by showing a brief clip of the video he is responding to, then begins with a phrase he has coined for himself that has received numerous cases of mixed responses itself. He then proceeds to respond to the allegedly ignorant content with his own thoughts and opinions on the matter.

The likely intention of his videos are to shed light on serious social issues that he feels strongly about, however, he is technically an online troll himself.

Tsosie’s use of sarcastic or inflammatory speech in his videos is considered to be offensive by some and allows for a consistent wave of trolling against him, allowing for a never-ending cycle of negativity and hate on Tik Tok.

In a recent post on his Tik Tok, Tsosie responds to a man whom he believed was defending statutory rapists and received serious criticism for his comments.

The reactions to his video were mixed due to the fact that he was addressing an incredibly serious manner however at the very same time, he is making provocative remarks that he knows will offend the individual he is commenting on.

Tsosie is trying to create a net positive impact through his popular online platform, but he does so through trolling. In a test of morality, many Tik Tok users are often conflicted over the intentions and impacts of his videos.

Tsosie’s tactics are not uncommon, however, and are mirrored by Drew Afualo, 26, who works as a model and social media influencer.

Afualo’s content on Tik Tok is very similar to Tsosie’s in that it centers on responding to misogynistic and sexist posts made on the platform.

The purpose of her videos are to shed light on the rampant misogyny that continues to prevail in the twenty-first century, however, she is also an online troll.

Afualo often uses degrading and insulting language while making her responses and she routinely makes fun of the physical appearance of the people she’s reacting to.

In one of her TikToks, Afualo responds to a man who made comments regarding women’s weight.

As per her typical routines, Afualo made comments about the man’s appearance to try and shame the man for his comments. However, middle school ethics lessons will tell us that two wrongs don’t make a right.

While Afualo seems to have good intentions by addressing these negative comments, at the very same time, she degrades the people she responds to and frames her entire response in an equally offensive manner.

Afualo is trying to send a message to the individuals who hold sexist beliefs, however, her way of sending that message is quite controversial.

Audiences React to Trolling for Change

It is difficult to quantify data on the impact of social justice trolling as the impact of positive trolling is still fairly localized to the followers of the social justice trolls.

The numbers in followers of these trolls seems to increase by the day, however, and the full impact of their trolling has yet to unfold.

Julia Keplinger, an English major and senior at LIU, shared with Seawanhaka her thoughts on trolls like Tsosie and Afualo, “I think trolling like this is entirely justified, not only for trolling misogynistic creators, but also for spreading awareness of the dangerous mindsets people can have. Trolling with good intentions is blameless and I quite enjoy seeing it on TikTok nowadays.”

However Mafrei Caranay, a Biology major and senior at LIU, couldn’t disagree more saying, “I appreciate that these trolls are giving ignorant people a taste of their own medicine, however I don’t think it will solve any real problems. This unhealthy cycle will just continue where fire is being fought with fire. It all leads to nothing good in the end.”

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