The Online Trolling of Football Fans on Social Media Based on Habermas's Public Sphere Theory (Case Study: Fan Pages of Esteghlal and Persepolis Teams on Instagram)

Document Type : Original Article


1 Ph.D. Student of Communication Science at Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tehran, Iran

2 MAof Communication Science at Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tehran, Iran



Purpose: This study was conducted to investigate the concept of online trolling among Iranian football fans (Esteghlal and Persepolis) on Instagram. Using the thematic analysis method and purposeful sampling method, we sought to examine two fan pages ( and fctaj) belonging to these two, relying on Habermas' views on the public sphere. We tried to answer whether online trolling by fans on social media (Instagram) and conversations based on it has created a new public sphere in cyberspace or continues the sphere of public life in society (sports).
Methods: This paper used thematic analysis by Clark's instructions, six themes were extracted, including obscenity, sexual slur, political, unfair judgment, teasing, and accusation. As a result, a network of related themes on online trolling was designed. 
Results: Findings show that what has emerged in fandom culture on social media as a public sphere is a place to spread hatred and trash-talk, not Habermas's rational arguments. Blaming, the accusation of nonidentity and illogical, humiliation, and sexual slurs toward other users has prevented the formation of a sphere by Habermas criteria.  
Conclusion: The lack of rational arguments, the emotionality of opinions instead of their rationality due to substantial prejudice against the favorite team, incorrect and unreliable and stereotypical judgments about the rival team, and superficial confrontation with the content and facts of football. Theatricality and hostility (antagonistic) of opinions are among the most critical factors that lead to the formation of online trolling in the Iranian sports life world and weaken the public sphere.