Internet Trolls Are Psychopathic, Sadistic, And Sometimes Paid By Fox News

Internet trolls are sadistic, psychopathic, and maybe paid by Fox News

Three Canada-based researchers did a study of the psychology of internet trolls. They found that trolls are psychopathic, sadistic and Machiavellian. Trolls photo by BlueBuddies.Com.

Online trolls are sick, sadistic people. No really. 

A new personality study shows that internet trolls have psychopathic, Machiavellian, and sadistic traits. All traits which are found in what psychologists call the Dark Tetrad.

For the purpose of clarity, Wikipedia defines a troll as:

“a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

Here’s how the study was carried out.

Three researchers, Erin Buckels (University of Manitoba), Paul  D. Trapnell (University of Winnipeg) and Delroy L. Paulhus (University of British Columbia), carried out a study in order to assess the personality traits of online trolls.

The research found that the personalities of online trolls fall into the ‘Dark Tetrad’.

Here’s a quick run down of what that means. A person with Machiavellian traits can be described as someone who is willing to deceive and manipulate other people. A person who has psychopathic traits is characterized by a lack of emotion, such as remorse and empathy. Someone with sadistic traits enjoys seeing other people suffer. 

These were the three most common personality traits found in people who say they troll the internet often.

The study began by first identifying the trolls. This was done by asking study participants to answer questions about their online habits, such as  ‘What do you enjoy doing most?’.

Participants of the study were given options like ‘debating issues that are important to you,’ ‘chatting with others,’ ‘making new friends,’ and ‘trolling others.’

The researchers found that 41 percent of internet users were “non commenters.”

Only 5.6 percent of those who said they do comment online could be classified as trolls.

Sadism was the most common trait among trolls.

The researchers also asked questions to help them identify Dark Tetrad traits. They were able to pin point these traits by asking participants to respond to statements such as:

‘I have sent people to shock websites for the lulz.’

‘I like to troll people in forums or the comments section of websites.’

‘I enjoy griefing other players in multiplayer games.’

‘The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt.’

The study showed that those who said they spend a lot of time commenting online, also said that trolling others was what they most enjoyed doing on the internet. As it turns out, the Dark Tetrad traits were also very common within the same group.

While psychopathic and Machiavellian traits were common in the group, the study found that sadism was the most common trait of online trolls. The authors of the study theorize that the internet may create an outlet for sadistic people, who don’t often get the chance to act out their desire to harm others, in every day social settings.

Here’s a graph showing the results of the study:

Graph for study on Internet trolls

Graph from Erin Buckels, et al, from the study on Internet trolls via Ars Technica.

Do not feed the trolls.

Understanding the psychology of trolls can be helpful when it comes to dealing with them online. For example, people with Machiavellian traits just want to manipulate the conversation, as well as the people who are involved in it. This type of person isn’t going to take part in an honest discussion of the issues, no matter what you do.

It is also pointless to try to reason with a psychopath, or to expect such a person to have empathy for others. Someone with these traits doesn’t have the ability to feel emotions like empathy, sympathy or concern for others.

A sadist gets pleasure out of knowing that he or she has upset someone. The more you argue or fight with a sadistic person, the more he or she gets out of the exchange.

… And some trolls are paid by Fox News.

Not all trolls will fall into these groups, of course. Some trolls are paid to harrass people online, like the commenters hired by Fox News and other right wing media outlets. On the other hand, it’s easy to think that even paid trolls share these traits. If they didn’t, it seems unlikely they’d take a low paying job that consists of doing nothing but harassing others all day. Since it’s hard to tell one type of troll from the next, the best solution is just not to engage them all.

More on trolls from AI.