New Media & Society

Boundary maintenance and the origins of trolling

by Elyse Graham (2019)

This article presents a new social framework for understanding the origins of trolling and its expansion from an obscure practice, limited to a handful of boards on Usenet, to a pervasive component of Internet culture. I argue that trolling originated, in the term of sociologists, as a form of boundary maintenance that served to distinguish communities of self-identified online in siders from others beyond the boundaries of their community and to drive outsiders away from their spaces. This framework can help us to better understand the transformations that trolling has undergone in the decades since its in ception, as well as the persistence of misogyny and prejudice throughout the history of the practice.

Boundary maintenance, Internet communities, Internet history, online harassment, politics of cyberspace, trolling.

Boundary maintenance
The Great Lolcat Massacre
“There are no women on the Internet”

Author biography:
Elyse Graham is assistant professor of Digital Humanities at Stony Brook University. Her first book, The Republic of Games, was published in 2018 by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

(Elyse Graham, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA. Email:


Graham, Elyse
Boundary maintenance and the origins of trolling.
In: New Media & Society 21,9 (Sep 2019), pp. 2029-2047.