Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Kayt Davies

Second Advisor

Trevor Cullen


This study analyses the impact of trolling on journalists in the Australian news media between 2015 and 2021, mapping its emergence and the responses of a variety of stakeholders. By 2015, trolling had cemented itself as a complex social issue prevalent in media discourse and has been the subject of a growing body of media and communications research over two decades.

A grounded theory approach,informed by feminist critical theory, functionalism and Ackoff’s (1974) Systems Theory,was used to investigate the impact of trolling on victims,and responses to trolling by anti-trolling campaigners, Twitter, Facebook, newsrooms, and the legal profession. Ackoff’s theory suggests that social problems cannot be resolved by considering stakeholders in isolation, and that a multi-site or multi-level approach to a problem is more likely to succeed. The research process included interviews with 10 trolled journalists, and content analysis of a range of archival evidence relevant to the other stakeholders, such as news articles, statements by social media companies,and Australian legislation. At points where professional insight into the results of the content analysis was required, the research included interviews with relevant experts.

The results of the research include identification of types of trolling frequently encountered by journalists; documentation of widespread frustration with Twitter’s inconsistent enforcement of policies that ban abusive content on its service; and acknowledgement of Facebook’s attempts to address multiple stakeholders involved in trolling and cyber-bullying. Newsrooms’ responses were categorised into ten themes that address the needs of various stakeholders,and an analysis of the relevant current Australia legislation found that while a range of statutes can be drawn upon, their use in relation to trolling has been scarce to date, with experts suggesting that more education of the public and law enforcement officers would enhance legal protection.

This study concludes that trolling is a wicked problem, meaning it is complex, dynamic, and difficult to navigate; thus, resolution strategies should involve collaborative approaches by multiple key stakeholders.


Readers should be aware that this thesis discusses offensive and discriminatory language and behaviour, sexual violence, and suicide