Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions

Justin Cheng, Michael Bernstein, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Jure Leskovec

Proceedings of CSCW, 2017.

Best Paper Award




In online communities, antisocial behavior such as trolling disrupts constructive discussion.  While prior work suggests that trolling behavior is confined to a vocal and antisocial minority, we demonstrate that ordinary people can engage in such behavior as well. We propose two primary trigger mechanisms: the individual's mood, and the surrounding context of a discussion (e.g., exposure to prior trolling behavior).  Through an experiment simulating an online discussion, we find that both negative mood and seeing troll posts by others significantly increases the probability of a user trolling, and together double this probability.  To support and extend these results, we study how these same mechanisms play out in the wild via a data-driven, longitudinal analysis of a large online news discussion community.  This analysis reveals temporal mood effects, and explores long range patterns of repeated exposure to trolling. A predictive model of trolling behavior shows that mood and discussion context together can explain trolling behavior better than an individual's history of trolling. These results combine to suggest that ordinary people can, under the right circumstances, behave like trolls.




  author={Justin Cheng and Michael Bernstein and Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and Jure Leskovec},

  title={Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions},

  booktitle={Proceedings of CSCW},