RAT theory and the science of criminology

RAT theory and the science of criminology


Research has approached the phenomena of trolling from two angles so far. The “individual” approach focused more on the individual side of psychological traits, behaviour leading to trolling, while the “situational” research tried to uncover environmental or cultural factors to explain individuals’ destructive and antisocial behaviour.

Most of the researches followed experimental quantitative or textual qualitative methodological designs.

The “individual” approach’s limits arise from the environmental impact because several researchers concluded that “under the right circumstances all people can act like trolls.” However, individual explanation cannot be discarded either, since individual behaviour and psychology transforms into group behaviour and data that can be used by third parties to manipulate large swathes of the population for political or economic purposes.

The “environmental” approach takes into consideration external factors that are theoretically well-defined and show a strong correlation with individual or group behaviour such as the technology of instant messaging, lack of physical or social knowledge of communication partners, lack of shared norms to guide online interactions. The environmentalist explanation mainly attributes trolling to “anonymity,” which liberates one from under the situations and community attentions enforcing everyday politeness, conformity to rules and regulations.

The “routine activity theory” (RAT) challenges this approach by denying the role well-known social structural factors, like inequality, employment, play in driving antisocial online behaviour.

The criminology theory of RAT postulates that crimes arise from the everyday opportunities of everyday people, so the mundane “opportunity situation” has three core or universal elements beyond other sociological circumstances: a motivated offender, an attractive target and the absence of capable guardianship.

Thus, Golf-Papez and Ekant Veer conclude, trolling behaviour is rather a result of specific places of perpetration, where offenders and targets can interact. Nevertheless, traditional sociological factors of explanations should not be eliminated from the explanation either, since profiles of trolls or trolling behaviour can be described along well-known sociological variables. Moreover, the targeting of vulnerable individuals or groups by third parties is all based on structural factors supplied by big data companies or platforms (Google, Facebook), like age, sex, occupation, thus they still contribute to the execution of any trolling activity very much.