Mobilizing the Trump Train: Understanding Collective Action in a Political Trolling Community
Keywords:Political Trolls,Online Communities,Reddit,The_Donald,Trolling,Collective Action
Political trolls initiate online discord not only for the lulz (laughs), but also for ideological reasons, such as promoting their desired political candidates. Political troll groups recently gained spotlight because they were considered central in helping Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election, which involved difficult mass mobilizations. Political trolls face unique challenges as they must build their own communities while simultaneously disrupting others. However, little is known about how political trolls mobilize sufficient participation to suddenly become problems for others. We performed a quantitative longitudinal analysis of more than 16 million comments from one of the most popular and disruptive political trolling communities, the subreddit /r/The Donald (T_D). We use T_D as a lens to understand participation and collective action within these deviant spaces. In specific, we first study the characteristics of the most active participants to uncover what might drive their sustained participation. Next, we investigate how these active individuals mobilize their community to action. Through our analysis we uncover that the most active employed distinct discursive strategies to mobilize participation, and deployed technical tools like bots to create a shared identity and sustain engagement. We conclude by providing data-backed design implications for designers of civic media.