Trolling as provocation: YouTube’s agonistic publics

McCosker, A. (2014). Trolling as provocation: YouTube’s agonistic publics. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 20(2), 201–217.


Open access: No

Notes: In this article, McCosker draws on the concept of acts of citizenship to offer two critical provocations in our understanding of trolling. First, we should not focus on specific behaviours (trolling) or identity types (trolls) but on the acts themselves—seeing what they provoke in the digital landscape. Second, that acts of vitriol are not inherently destructive, and indeed, we ought to see them as acts of provocation, such as “to intensify and sustain engagement, affect attention and contest forms of participation” (p. 215). As such, McCosker encourages us to take an agonistic pluralist perspective, where conflict and power are seen as ways of engaging with irreducible forms of difference in societies.

Abstract: This article explores the productive role of provocation in YouTube publics in the context of two culturally and geographically situated visual events that took place in New Zealand throughout 2011. Through qualitative analysis of the extensive comments fields for the two videos, the article examines the nature of participatory acts associated with what has been called at different times flaming, hating or trolling. The article argues that such acts can only be properly understood within their cultural and geographic context and in their ability to affect and extend ‘agonistic’ publics. The analysis addresses online passion, conflict and vitriol through the notion of ‘acts of citizenship’, as productive forms of provocation.

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