Grim linked to an article over at Reason about the pathologies of online virtue signalers, specifically that they exhibit “Dark Triad” traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and manipulativeness. I don’t think much in terms of dark triad professionally. It sometimes contributes to psychiatric emergencies because the patient has alienated support systems, or overreacted to difficulties that might have been managed, but those are generally add-ons. Those traits don’t constitute emergencies. We might note them in passing and how they complicate treatment, but we quickly agree “This is not our problem to fix.” I have noted that social media enables people with personality disorders to have much more power than they do in contact with human beings in real time and space.
I poked around to see if there is literature on connections between Dark Triad and Personality Disorders to see if that could add something to the understanding of these people who claim victimhood but are themselves more likely the abusers online. There’s a fair bit of soft evidence of this, but it doesn’t seem well-studied. As I mentioned in the comment section over at Grim’s, this is third-rail stuff for researchers in the social sciences, as they are studying the very people who are most likely to destroy your career if you say the wrong thing about them.
I always have to make an adjustment when reading the word “trolls,” because I think the meaning has become more general than my own take. I still think of them as trolling, as in fishing by dragging bait in the water and seeing what goes after it. For trolls in that sense, it is irrelevant whether they actually believe the ideas they are dragging behind them, they just want to use whatever bait gets people most upset. Because the noun form has become the more often used, I think the other meaning of troll, of a difficult humanoid who may or may not live under a bridge but is dangerous trouble, has supplanted the original meaning. I think it is now applied to anyone being abusive online. To my eyes many of them are sincere, just difficult or infuriating. Trolls were usually anonymous. Now they want more twitter followers.
Interesting research that college students became more narcissistic 1979-2006. Note that this is largely before social media, though the end of that period does include increases in anonymous online commentary. I can’t imagine things have gotten better since then, though I have no clue how much worse it has gotten. It may be a self-limiting phenomenon that is only going to strongly affect 15-20% of the population very much and that was already reached, with only slight increases since then because of cultural changes in the rest of the population. Or it may have spun wildly out of control by now. It seems to feel that way to others. To me, human beings have always been this bad.
So, Dark Triad and online bullying, false victimisation, and virtue signaling. Seems about right. A few decades ago some of us learned that bullies are not poor saps with low self-esteem who are trying to make up for it, but have inflated self-esteem that reality does not sustain. They believe they are more attractive, have more friends, and are nearer to the top of the class than they really are, and so seek to punish others when reality bites them. That would certainly fit with virtue signaling. We’ve all done virtue signaling, dropping hints that we are better people than our behavior would warrant. It is common. But most of us also feel uncomfortable with the hypocrisy and know we had better pretty quickly cut that stuff out. If you do too much of it, you get worried about being found out and exposed as a fraud. And sometime later in the day you are going to be talking to God anyway, and you know that’s not going to be a good moment.
Referring back to the original link, it is interesting that the researchers connected the traits of claiming victimhood and virtue signaling right from the start, which is why they studied it. That’s exactly the sort of wrongthink that may get them in trouble someday, but we should be grateful they are giving it a run now.
Update: I neglected to mention that reading about the Dark Triad just naturally brings you into discussions of Big Five Personality traits. These are well-studied for decades and interesting, but came under some criticism when it became clear that they didn’t fit non-Western subjects quite as well. Not badly, just not as well. The Big Five are Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. There is a newer model, HEXACO, that uses six factors, the new one being Honesty/Humility. It also slices the pie differently on two of the previous five. How this range of factors interacts with the Dark Triad is rather interesting.