“I’m in the center of a vortex”: Mapping the affective experiences of trolling victims
Keywords:trolling, Chinese Internet, affect, victim experience
This study investigates how the landscape of affect in trolling is constituted from the perspective of victims. It is based on a series of semi-structured interviews conducted in 2018 and 2019 with people who had experienced trolling on Chinese social media and were willing to talk about it. All participants described trolling incidents as beginning from something seemingly inconsequential. By the end of their descriptions, however, a messy, uncontrolled situation emerged that became the source of stress, frustration, and anxiety. Victims worked, sometimes unsuccessfully, to escape from trolling and regain control, not just of their social media communications but also of their identities. Their posts and, inevitably, themselves became the central point of attraction for content to stick to. Screenshots played a particular role in creating this stickiness. Even though some factors were considered a normal but unfortunate part of using social media, crossing the line into private spaces was considered unacceptable. A mapping of the landscape of affect showed that the emotions expressed have a clear starting point in surprise and a fairly clear sequence, with timing, including rapid escalation and drawn-out continuation of the experience, alongside a lack of logical explanations and reactions, leading to a sense of powerlessness. The potential for damage to a victim’s everyday life and for harm to their sense of self, along with the difficulties in reclaiming an identity over which they have control, indicates that a focus on the victims of trolling is a topic worthy of further research.
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