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‘I Am In No Way This’: Troll Hunters and Pragmatic Digital Self-Reference > READ

Persona Studies,  Vol 3, No 2 (2017)

Abstract

If personae are masks used to communicate a certain character in performance, what happens in rapid unmaskings, especially as they occur in digital space? That question is central to the phenomenon of “troll-hunting.” Employing both journalistic and algorithmic tools, troll hunters unmask the offline identity of purveyors of digital hate speech, child pornography, illegal commerce and more. Digital citizens have concerned themselves with the efficacy, privacy, and ethics of such hunting, but have not as frequently explored another area: The narrative distance between a digital persona and a perceived “real”person behind that persona. Such distances can range from some version of the sentiment, “I am in no way this kind of person” to a comfortable coupling between online-offline selves, even during public shaming. Using textual analysis, I critically examine statements of those whose digital troll persona were unmasked, with special attention to the word I and the dissonance in offline-online personae, long discussed by academics, but also becoming an increasingly practical concern.