This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Russian Twitter Trolls and the Production of Moral Panics




Mallinak, Shannon

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work


The development of moral panic theory within the past 50 years unveiled a framework to analyze social alarm about labeled deviance within public discourse and revealed how the conversation about deviance can shape and change society. Russia’s state-operated Internet Research Agency (IRA) utilizes “trolls” on social media to alter discourse within American sociopolitical conversations with the intent to destabilize democratic functioning and Western ideals. This thesis takes a deductive approach of analyzing Russian troll behavior on Twitter through the moral panic theory lens, particularly utilizing the sociology of moral emotions in panic production, to better understand how Russia’s malign influence operations encourages polarization and division within American political discourse. A content analysis was conducted on a random sampling of tweets from identified Russian troll accounts from 2016 to 2018. The analysis explores the moral emotions and topics of the tweets to better understand Russia’s role in facilitating moral panic production within social discourse.