“New Study: Internet Trolls Are Often Machiavellian Sadists”

Cited here (via Lindsay Bell).

The conclusions of this study seem consistent with observation.

In two online studies (total N = 1215), respondents completed personality inventories and a survey of their Internet commenting styles. Overall, strong positive associations emerged among online commenting frequency, trolling enjoyment, and troll identity, pointing to a common construct underlying the measures. Both studies revealed similar patterns of relations between trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality: trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores. Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.

There’s also this (via The Big Picture):

It’s long been obvious that people with wacko tendencies are vastly overrepresented among Internet commenters as compared to the general population. (See also this and this and this and this.)

We’re a mere twenty years into human mass-networking via anonymous electronic connection. There are hints of major Internet-driven social changes that we don’t yet understand or even perceive. Much Internet activity seems to be fake. Many people online aren’t who they appear to be. Real-world activities, as in relations between the sexes, appear to be changing faster than ever as information propagates and incentives change in record time. It will be interesting to make sense of the social changes of the 1990s through 2010s from the perspective of twenty years hence, if we live long enough.

26 thoughts on ““New Study: Internet Trolls Are Often Machiavellian Sadists””

  1. IMO, the morons that pass on those fake emails with false political bs in them are worse than trolls. Trolls do not take themselves seriously. The ones passing those hoax emails on do.

  2. I’ve never understood what “trolling” – in the internet sense – means. Is it a single, coherent phenomenon? Would anyone like to offer a definition?

  3. I think it’s more a syndrome and I know it when I see it. Commenters who seem deliberately provocative, and/or are obsessed with details or irrelevancies that distract from the big picture, often fit the pattern.

  4. There’s a longish (and, I thought, reasonable) discussion of the term in the Wikipedia article.

    I tend, like the authors of that paper, to identify trolls by their intentions, as far as I can read them. If a person is trying to disrupt a discussion, then I am likely to consider them a troll. However, it can be hard to differentiate them from a person who is just obsessed with idea.

  5. So Facebook, who’s profession is ‘gaming the system’, were involved in the Obama election campaign? Coincidence, I guess.

  6. ‘TROLLING’ is a form of fishing. To do it you need an ocean, a lake or a pond in which there are some fish and perhaps some other creatures. Its more fun if the water is so deep that you can’t see the fish and the fish can’t see you.

    In order to troll you need some bait that the fish find exciting/insulting/stupid/interesting. The bait has to float, not sink.

    You tie the bait to a piece of string and then sit in a moving boat and drag the bait across the water. You troll to see what kind of creature will come up from the deep and snap up your bait.

    If you use a hook and catch something you have to throw it back in the water so its better not to use a hook.

    Trolls with hooks are called advertisers. Some work for the NSA or some other mythical agency.

  7. Gray Eagle, you may well be right about the origin of the term. Some have attributed it to the troll under the bridge but I think your suggestion is better.

  8. Thank you, GE; I know what ‘trolling” is in the nautical sense but I found your analogy helpful.
    Thank you, Robert: I found the discussion in your first link uselessly circular, but the second link was clear.

    Its first definition, though, strikes me as odd. Being “deliberately provocative” is surely a legitimate part of debate? Also, by what magic could I infer someone else’s “intention” anyway? Whereas the person covered by the second definition is indubitably just a pest, and may be judged fairly objectively by the symptoms listed.

  9. Oh I’m sorry, busy with my gaming.

    A troll lives under a bridge and waits for passers’ by. I just poke holes in your ridiculous arguments, which may be irritating.

    So categorizing those who irritate you as some kind of monster allows you to just attack the messenger while ignoring the message. Typical here, and many other places too.

  10. “A troll lives under a bridge and waits for passers’ by. I just poke holes in your ridiculous arguments, which may be irritating. ”

    I prefer the definition which includes the troll posting comments just to provoke a response and to validate his own existence. For that reason, I like the “nautical” analogy.

  11. I didn’t claim to be a contrarian. I will leave to others the decision if I am a troll. I think the only link I have seen from you was to a cartoon.

  12. Trolls can be intelligent or stupid, well argued or full of ad hominems. The strength of their logic is much less important than the reason for which they argue.

    Socrates was very close to a troll. If we take Plato at his word and believe that Socrates was just trying to find the truth, then he was a first rate philosopher. On the other hand, if all of Socrates’ dialogues were given to embarrass people seen as smart, to play with them and their ideas for the sheer amusement of it, then he’d be a troll o the highest order.

    As dearime notes, it is pretty hard to tell what people’s intentions are. It is often hard to tell if someone is really a troll or just argumentative (and oblivious) to a fault. To make matters worse, trolls know this and take advantage of it. It can be quite frustrating to deal with them.

    And so did Socrates die of Hemlock.

  13. PenGun fits my definition of a troll because each and every comment she gives is 100% predictable, is always on the same side politically, and lacks any real thinking and/or imagination. Heck, I could write PenGun’s comments for her if I needed to. With the notable exception of her “cougar whisperer” comments a while back, which came from Mars.

    I find her insults to the US hilarious, as if her native Canada lives in some sort of vacuum. If she lives in Canada, that is.

    She never comments on history or tech posts, just current events/politics, which also proves that she is basically a “plug and play” type of troll. Every troll can comment on politics, but most sound dumb(er) when trying to talk tech or history.

    Many of her comments are cut and paste as well, and Google has made it extremely easy to identify this type of behavior. For these reasons she adds nothing to any of my comments threads and I have banned her permanently from them.

    I also prefer the nautical definition of trolling.

    I don’t mind a troll if they add a dimension to my posts/threads, but in general I just don’t have the tine and/or energy for them.

  14. I wonder how many are on the payroll of the Soros/Chicago combine? I realize of course, food stamps, SSI/SSDI, welfare and the myriad of University programs that encourage and quite possibly accredit such activity make the typing easier, but it’s not a “living wage” is it?

  15. “Oh, most definitely, Pen.”

    LOL. That’s actually an Orc but I can understand the confusion. I will play one in Elder Scrolls Online when it comes out, and actually before, as I am testing in the beta.

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