In my next project, I continue to examine internet regulation and online exchange but in the context of political propaganda. "Tending the Troll Farm" investigates the critical role of troll farms in the online misinformation landscape. Troll farms are organizations that employ large groups of people to create fake internet accounts in order to promote a particular political viewpoint through provocative online comments. Despite being emergent media institutions, troll farms have been widely neglected in studies of misinformation, which have tended to focus on automated bots and fake news outlets. Drawing on classical propaganda studies and digital media theory, including my own work on internet fraud, I plan to investigate the social, political, legal, and economic dynamics of troll farms.
Troll farms are thorny research objects that require diverse approaches. I utilize ethnographic research methods through interviews with former and current troll farm workers; digital research methods through web crawlers; and textual research methods through a critical discourse analysis of troll farm comments, recently provided to Congress by major internet platforms following the 2016 US presidential election. Furthermore, I draw on various empirical materials, including Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, technical documents, financial disclosures, governmental proceedings, and digital images.
Header: Coolface / Trollface / Problem? / U Mad? meme. This Carlos Ramirez drawing became an icon of internet trolls and their mischievous rage in the late 2000s. Coolface is also part of rage comics, a series of MS paint drawings that express anger and dismay.