I know a few individuals who fit the troll-bill exactly, feigning outrage when called out for the true nature of their interactions on Facebook…:
If you have siblings, you no doubt harbor a hint of the sadist; who hasn’t delighted in getting the occasional rise out of a younger brother by petting his cat after he ordered you not to do so? (To take one, ahem, utterly fictional example that is not in any way drawn from my childhood.) But your run-of-the-mill backseat pokers, hair pullers, and forbidden cat petters don’t generally grow up to spend large portions of their time harassing total strangers on the Internet in search of “lulz.” They don’t, in other words, turn into Internet trolls.
That’s because the true troll has a lot more of the sadist hidden deep inside than you do, gentle reader—at least according to a new study, “Trolls just want to have fun,” which appeared in the academic journal Personal and Individual Differences. The Canadian researchers behind the study conclude that “online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists… For those with sadistic personalities, [their] ideal self may be a villain of chaos and mayhem—the online Trickster we fear, envy, and love to hate: the cyber-troll.”
Though it sounds awesome in an “evil magician” sort of way, the Dark Tetrad is actually a set of four “noxious” personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. Professors Eric Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus hypothesized that online trolls would rank highly in Dark Tetrad traits, and they set out to test the idea with surveys administered both to Canadian students and to random users of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program (the latter group receiving fifty cents per person for their trouble).
Respondents answered survey questions drawn from the Short Sadistic Impulse scale, the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies scale, the Short Dark Triad scale, and the newly developed Global Assessment of Internet Trolling. Some of the statements that researchers asked the group to respond to included:
•I have been compared to famous people (narcissism)
•It’s not wise to tell your secrets (Machiavellianism)
•Payback needs to be quick and nasty (psychopathy)
•Hurting people is exciting (sadism)
•In video games, I like the realistic blood sports (vicarious sadism)
Respondents also discussed their Internet use and commenting frequency.
In the first of the two studies done by the researchers, only 5.6 percent of the survey population actively enjoyed trolling others online. As expected, “Dark Tetrad scores were highest among those who selected trolling as the most enjoyable activity” when commenting. Trolls turn out to be extroverts—but extroverts with “disagreeable” personality traits.
In a second and similar study, the researchers asked people if they have “ever sent people to shock websites for the lulz” or if they enjoy “griefing other players in multiplayer games,” in addition to the psychological questions. Results were similar to those in the first study. “Sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism scores were positively correlated with self-reported enjoyment of trolling,” write the researchers.
Of the four Dark Tetrad traits, though, sadism stands out among trolls, which led the researchers to label online trolls as “prototypical everyday sadists.” Sadism provides the pleasure that keeps trolls trolling. “Sadists just want to have fun,” the researchers conclude, “and the Internet is their playground.”
The Internet’s amazing ability to create communities even out of the strangest or most repulsive of niche interests has also been a boon to trolls, who in the past could only make themselves unpleasant in local ways—bringing family members to tears at Christmas dinner, for instance. Thanks to the ‘Net, though, not only do they have a broader (and more anonymous) outlet for their urges, but trolls “have greater opportunities to connect with similar others and to pursue their personal brand of ‘self expression.'”
God help us all.
Personally, my solution to such interactions on my Facebook page was initially a temporary ban on comments or a censor on that which was clearly trolling. In the spirit of charity, such a measure is seems to be the right thing to do – but in some circumstances this type of [learned or purposeful] sociopathy cannot be taught away, as was the goal of such censorship. I eventually had to block a few people who clearly were engaging in flippancy, baiting, and inking the waters of discussion. You just can’t save everyone, eh?
More to come on a theory of evolution aided by tech…