Ever wondered why trolls troll and what makes them respond with so much vitriol online? So did many behavioural researchers and they finally have some answers.
A new study conducted by the Brigham Young University in the U.S. found that individuals with traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, coupled with feeling good about other people’s misery, are most likely to become trolls online.
Trolling is the act of posting inflammatory and provocative comments online in order to bait people into an argument or to upset them. The study surveyed 400 Reddit users and discovered that trolling was more prominent in people who displayed the dark triad personality traits — narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy — and schadenfreude (German for deriving pleasure out of someone else’s misfortunes). It also showed that people who troll view it as acceptable online behaviour, as they receive pleasure and validation from it, regardless of its effects on others. Interestingly, the study also showed that more women viewed trolling as a dysfunctional activity while men were more likely to view it as functional.
The researchers also noted that people with schadenfreude consider trolling to be an acceptable form of communication as they view it as enhancing online discourse, rather than devaluing it. “This behaviour may happen because it feels appropriate to the medium,” said BYU communications professor Dr. Scott Church, who co-authored the study. “So, heavy users of the platform may feel like any and all trolling is ‘functional’ simply because it’s what people do when they go on Reddit.”
Heavy users of a social media platform may feel like any and all trolling is ‘functional’ simply because it’s what people do on there.
The results are similar to the findings of a 2016 study titled ‘The dark side of Facebook: The Dark Tetrad, negative social potency, and trolling behaviours by Dr. Evita March, a psychology researcher and lecturer at Federation University Australia. “Harassing behaviours online (such as cyberbullying and trolling) are shown to have psychological outcomes similar to those of harassment offline. These outcomes can include depression, social anxiety and low self-esteem,” she said in the study.
March adds that these findings, however, actually have one positive outcome — an easy solution. “Ignore them, rather than giving them the satisfaction of an angry reaction. Individuals seeking a negative social reward may still engage in trolling. But if they don’t receive that negative social reward, then their motivation to engage in this behaviour will likely diminish,” she said.
BYU researchers also have a concurrent conclusion. “Remember who you are when you go online,” Church said. “It helps when we think of others online as humans. When we forget their identities as actual people, seeing them instead as merely usernames or avatars, it becomes easier to engage in trolling.”