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Instead of trying to mine information that simply wasn’t available to me, I decided to focus on the information that was. My primary line of inquiry thus shifted from “what do trolls feel about what they do” to the much simpler “what do trolls do.” And what trolls do is engage in behaviors that are gendered male, raced as white, and marked by privilege. This demographic might not be literal, but it is symbolic—and more importantly, it is verifiable. Also verifiable are the ways in which trolls’ behaviors gesture towards, and in some cases directly parrot, ostensibly “normal” mainstream attitudes and behaviors. For example, trolls’ rhetorical and behavioral tactics—particularly in response to mass-mediated tragedy—echo precisely the sensationalism, spectacle, and emotional exploitation routinely deployed by corporate media outlets. Furthermore, their grotesque pantomime of masculine domination and white privilege call direct attention to remaining strongholds of institutionalized sexism and racism. This I could see, this I could confirm, and so this is what I chose to focus on — from which emerged my theory of cultural digestion, which is comparable to the process by which a scientist might infer an animal’s diet based on its –shall we say– “output” (just let the metaphor sink in; you’re welcome). In the process of grappling with what I couldn’t know, in other words, I stumbled upon a thesis.
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