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.
15 thoughts on “Online Abuse”
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.
I agree with your definition. Which is why I describe our own Canadian troll as such. I see them on other sites and they usually post insulting and aggravating comments looking for reaction.
Machiavellianism. Thank you, I did not know that was a word.
Trolls lurk under bridges and wait for the billy goats. Its that simple. ;)
Some people enjoy fighting, provoking fights, and/or provoking third parties to fight each other. Some people want attention and/or social connection but lack the physical attractiveness or achievements or social skills to attract other people. Some people have hidden agendas, often business agendas, that depend on riling up the greatest number at the lowest cost. Some people, including some of the people in the aforementioned categories, have mental health issues that are easier to mask online than in mass-media or FTF communication. The Internet is a great facilitator for many of the people in these categories.
A lot of people (most?) don’t actually look at twitter, facebook, the internet in general, etc., as a place to interact with other living, breathing people, but as a game they are trying to “win”. “Assistant Village Idiot” and “Mike K” and “Pen Gun” and “Jonathan” are just characters in the game. You want to do something to make them respond, or else what’s the point of the game?
You want to do something to make them respond, or else what’s the point of the game?
Yes and that is their motive. As was once said, “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.”
“You want to do something to make them respond, or else what’s the point of the game?”
I’ve either ignored tolls or mocked them viciously, depending on circumstances or inclination. Seems to work for me, either way, and I rarely resort to closing comments entirely.
You want to do something to make them respond, or else what’s the point of the game?
It depends on the type of response you are looking for. AVI’s post is about one subset of Internet communicators. Most of the people who participate on this blog come from a different subset, the one consisting of people who seek mainly to share information and ideas.
@ Brian, I think that is true even on the best of sites. Ann Althouse has very good commenters, and David Thompson has witty ones. Slate Star Codex had absolutely stunning commenters before he resigned because the NYT determined to out his identity. Greg Cochrane at West Hunter has professionals in anthropology and other fields commenting regularly. An education in themselves, some of them. Yet even those have their clowns and difficult individuals and people trying to get someone to fight.
Related anecdote: I had a friend unfriend me on FB after I challenged one of his commenters who was sneering at those contradicting him, though he wasn’t giving any evidence, just saying that the students in his course on Gnosticism knew more than they did. He was a name, and is in fact they guy who does the Great Courses lectures on the subject. Still, he was being a jerk and was merely sneering, and I called him on it. I don’t doubt that my ex-friend thinks it was me who was being the troll. Some get permission and others don’t, it depends on the context.
I’ve quit Althouse a couple of times due to the trolls and vicious leftists. I used to read and comment on leftist sites like Huffpo and Washington Monthly. I followed Kevin Drum form his own blog to Wash Monthly, then to Mother Jones. In 2004, Kevin researched the Bush TANG story and concluded it was a hoax. He wanted it to be true but was honest enough to see that it was not. That was well before Dan Rather, and he avoided the pratfall Rather took.
Unfortunately, the other commenters and the moderators at that site got angry because I did not agree that single payer, NHS style, was the best solution. There were increasingly nasty responses, then I was banned. My comments were deleted, leaving the nasty responses. Some of them were quite personal using info from my own blog.
There is a difference between trolls like the one here and some of the really vicious people who will attack. The trolls just want a response to make them feel clever or just alive.
I try to ignore them but find myself responding sometimes.
@ Mike K – Oh yeah? Come over here and say that, ya dog-faced pony soldier!
“There were increasingly nasty responses, then I was banned. My comments were deleted, leaving the nasty responses.”
I used to argue with leftists on the internet for fun. I didn’t care if they were nasty to me because I was quite happy to be nasty right back. It was a fun game, and I recall civil exchanges with some of them when the arguments were over. That was free speech, and my take is that- then- we all accepted it as such.
But, gradually, it devolved into what Mike K describes. Leftists can’t win arguments unless they can hobble those who disagree with them- and here we are with today’s cancel culture. Shrug. Killing time about to begin.
That said, I’d like to offer a sort-of defense of PenGun. First, PenGun can spell, or at least hasn’t managed to disable spell-check on his machine. The leftists I used to interact with somehow often failed to meet that low bar. Second, PenGun has stuck around here a pretty long time and has inspired plenty of good responses, which I think is a net plus for this site, or any site that would want people to comment. Third, I think his/her/xer/whatevs nasty and hostile opinion against the United States- which I think is typical of Canada, supposedly our closest ally and best friend- is yet another sign that the United States actually has no actual allies anywhere on this planet.
That is an important fact that needs to be made known, and Pengun is helping.
Thank you, PenGun.
I think his/her/xer/whatevs nasty and hostile opinion against the United States- which I think is typical of Canada, supposedly our closest ally and best friend- is yet another sign that the United States actually has no actual allies anywhere on this planet.
Good point. I think I posted something about this here.
This was more about individuals but it applies to the country.
One commenter wondered what Someone was doing while this ‘tragedy’ occurred. “How come there was an alarm raised, carrying that machine gun, it was obvious to the onlookers in the picture. Somebody could have prevented another tragedy in the name of this perverse and ancient religion.”
Yes, where was that Someone ?
Canada was once a worthy ally. Perhaps, like South Dakota and Germany, all the flyers got killed. That’s why pheasants in South Dakota all run, not fly. Canadians are soft and prefer the Soviet Union method of behavior.
The real problem with the internet is that after 2016 the left decided they had to eliminate any chance for dissenting conservative voices to be heard.
Twitter is completely overt about it. Reddit has moved that way, and gotten almost as bad. Google tries to pretend otherwise, but is terrible. Facebook is still mostly holding out. Heck, every major sports website eliminated comments sections since they were sick of their customers telling them they hated their SJW nonsense.
I agree with Xennady that Pengun isn’t a real troll or at least not good enough at it to spew 100% nonsense. I hope the Canadian health system (so called) continues to find his cost of upkeep acceptable.
There are a lot of anti U.S. Canuks. I’ll bet most of them have been to the U.S. a lot more than I’ve been to Canada. As my mom told me when I was being teased as a little squirt, “they’re just jealous”.
Twitter is surely an example of how assumed anonymity brings out the worst in some people. This isn’t new, it’s why there used to be laws against wearing masks in public.
For most people it comes down to a matter of respect. A rational person doesn’t waste time engaging someone he doesn’t respect unless forced by some extrinsic circumstance. People that do so as a habit where the alternative is just scrolling past are probably exhibiting some sort of pathology.
Costs exceeding benefits is what makes behavior pathological. In cases of online abuse the costs far exceed any benefits as they are imposed on the larger group of discussion participants to benefit a small number of abusers. A skilled troll can dominate a discussion in which dozens of other people are participating directly and many others are lurking. Eventually many of these participants get tired of the constant provocations and responses to provocations and leave the discussion. Perhaps software designers could reduce the benefits to online abusers by adding a “hide comments from this commenter’s IP address” button to discussion software. It’s a difficult problem.
Pengun is usually wrong but he’s not abusive, he’s a useful foil as Xennady notes and once in a while he says something intelligent that no one else here would have said. Also he functions as an online analog to a speakers’ corner, one of the important functions of which is to signal that unconventional views and disagreement are tolerated.
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