Study Shockingly Suggests Internet Trolls May Not Be Very Nice Or Particularly Mentally Healthy In Real Life

from the you-don't-say dept

A new study from the University of Manitoba has shockingly claimed to have found that the Internet trolls we all know or love so well may not be very nice — or particularly mentally healthy — individuals in real life. The study tried to explore whether or not Internet trolls fell into the so called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). The study (mostly survey, really) claims to have found:

“… correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.”

It’s worth noting that the survey found, by and large, that most people online are perfectly reasonable and decent human beings. At the very least they’re just quiet lurkers:

“To be sure, only 5.6 percent of survey respondents actually specified that they enjoyed “trolling.” By contrast, 41.3 percent of Internet users were “non-commenters,” meaning they didn’t like engaging online at all. So trolls are, as has often been suspected, a minority of online commenters, and an even smaller minority of overall Internet users.”

The study appears to rely heavily on subjects pulled from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, who may not be a good control representative of what constitutes normal behavior, either online or off. The study also appears to be rather heavily reliant on simply asking people if they liked to be jerks on the Internet — which if I were an Internet troll, I’m not sure I’d answer correctly. Reading their analysis and methodology, it’s not clear to me if the researchers did (or could) calculate how anonymity can turn a relatively normal person into a blathering jackass (as this classic Penny Arcade comic illustrates in deep scientific detail).

Is somebody necessarily a sadist offline because anonymity turns them into a jerk when they’re online? Isn’t it possible that people act worse online because the sense of anonymity gives them the belief they’re free from repercussion and can therefore experiment with darker, but not necessarily dominant, aspects of their personality they’d fear to explore offline? Wouldn’t that especially be true of children, who may express anger at their lack of power through online rage, but develop into perfectly normal people as they age?

You can dig through the full methodology yourself, assuming you’re smart enough, professor. Those shoes make you look fat. I’d also like to point out that the Beatles sucked, Internet Explorer is the vastly superior browser, the RIAA makes a lot of solid points based on sound scientific data, the Comcast merger will help cure cancer and save puppies, and my little sister is much better than you are at this game, bro.

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Comments on “Study Shockingly Suggests Internet Trolls May Not Be Very Nice Or Particularly Mentally Healthy In Real Life”

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Zos (profile) says:

Boing boing said it best a couple weeks ago-
“scientists say trolls are vicious sadists”
Trolls say “thank you, good sir”.

i don’t think i’m a sadist, i can barely beat my wife as hard as she prefers, i just enjoy seeing stupid people dringing themselves to stroke over things people say to them on the interwebz.

or herping deserving derps…if i don’t make fun of anti vaxxers, creationists, lawyers and other scum…who will?

troller says:

Re: Re:

Seriously i have been caught in a conversation online only to realsie that it is someone trolling me, very frustrating but easily ignored. But then again i can just troll back getting the troll pissed off and upset, a nice game to play actually if i can be bothered to.

I have trolled a few times when people are being stupid about something but only a few times and only when i am pissed of with life in general…saying that i think the last time i trolled someone was years ago…family life being what it is i rarely get time to waste on the internet and when i do i would rather spend it having fun not trolling people.

Todd Knarr (profile) says:


“Character is what you are in the dark.”

If you’re a nice person who turns into a flaming jerkwad when you think nobody can know who you are, you’re not in fact a nice person. You’re just a flaming jerkwad who’s good at covering it up because you’d be ashamed for people to know you’re a flaming jerkwad. This is why so many “apologies” for incredibly stupid unintentionally-public statements are phrased the way they are: the people who made them aren’t actually ashamed to have made the statement, they’re just ashamed that their having said it became public knowledge.

NB: everybody has at least a bit of this flaw in them. The key is to just man up and accept this fact. It’ll get you a bit more respect, and give you the chance to direct your attitude at targets that’ve done something to deserve it.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Anonymous is a flaw

There is one problem with the idea that trolls can be totally anonymous on-line, as suggested-there is no true anonymity on the internet any more.

Somewhere, someone has something on you. No matter what anyone says there is no true hiding on-line anymore.

So one can troll all you like. Just be careful of where it is you do it, because karma is a bitch if you cross the wrong line and piss off the wrong person. Your IP can be traced to a physical address. ISPs can track you down.

So be a jerk, narcissistic and savage all you want. Just don’t complain when it catches up to you.

troller says:

Re: Anonymous is a flaw

I remember this one dude being very clever and managing to get me to install a virus on my computer giving him full control..he was crying on the phone when i called him and advised him i would get him blacklisted on every isp in the country, which was only about 4 of them at the time…what pleasure it was to let him know i was monitoring his ip address and had warned all other isp to watch out for him.
yes he had a changing ip address yes he could use encryption software yes he could complain…but at the time i could not monitor him, i was trolling ad in a good way i think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anonymous is a flaw


Implying everything on the internet is to be taken seriously. Implying just because you take it personally that it is personal. Implying a person will be tracked down because of your butthurt.

The real narcissists are the ones who believe it’s all about them. The ones who expect and demand that the world revolves around their butthurt so everyone must act accordingly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anonymous is a flaw (Am not!)

That underscores the importance of proxies, VPNs, encryption, and so forth. No, nothing is 100% foolproof, but you should do whatever you can. (And if you were fortunate enough to be able to sign up with a small-town ISP under an alias and fake address and pay your monthly bill in cash, that helps too.)

Anonymous Coward says:

the study design questions here remind me of hearing about the early days of polling, right after ww2 ended, as corporations turned from the war effort to trying to get back on their feet in the business world.

chrysler had built tanks and who-knows-what through the war years and wanted to hit the ground running when they returned to producing autos.? the survey was a new idea, and chrysler hired one of the polling agencies to find out what kind of car america wanted.? so the agency simply asked people what sort of car they wanted, and sensible, boxsy cars resulted.? check out the ’50 plymouth, say.? and the company almost went under, so i was told.

the pollsters didn’t give up.? they redesigned the survey and asked people what the neighbor across the street wanted.? long, low, fast, and impressive.? lots of gadgets.? check out the ’57 plymouth, say.? saved the company, so i was told.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Is now doing things”? You’re kidding, right? That ship sailed long ago; now the most important thing to them is continuing to further their international impression as people who troll other people for laughs.

Sure, they did a couple things that everyone thought was good, but that’s largely only because they happened to troll people that a majority of society consider morally reprehensible. Try to suggest that this is what they should be doing, and you’ll see the fanboys crawl out of the woodwork, whining that “Anonymous isn’t your personal army”.

Which is just as well. Nobody wants a personal army whose sole aim is to dox you for laughs, ruin your reputation in any way possible, and harass you just for questioning their methodologies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When your methodology is to fuck shit up, then claim that since anyone can be Anonymous they can’t be described, accounted for, hold responsible or disagreed with for fucking shit up, everyone is going to look like a nail to be hammered.

So yes, they were their own worst enemy, falling on their own double-edged sword.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’s not trolling if it’s not only accurate, but also the exact same thing Anonymous crows with triumph about. “We will fuck you up, and you can’t account for all of us because we’re Anonymous. We will stymie every attempt you make that even remotely looks like a challenge or disagreement to us fucking you up.”

Sounds like someone’s a fanboy.

Mike says:

This sounds pretty unscientific. How do you define a troll? Does everyone have to think he’s a troll, or just a few?

It also seems very self-serving to say “someone made me mad. Therefore he has problems [in real life]”. Because wouldn’t that make you feel good? To have some dirt IRL next time that troll pops up. Probably not going to happen.

Cheryl says:

Why I do it

I can speak only for myself, and I’m only trolling one website right now, but I do it because I’ve been very hurt. I’m diagnosed with bipolar disorder and while I have meds that control it, something slipped recently and I found myself obsessing over my writing I post online and in such pain that I wasn’t getting as much feedback as I had when I keep asking nicely.

The big thing is this: being nice, polite, and sweet didn’t get me the attention I’m so desperate for. But you know what does? Being an asshole. Instant success. Because people will always feed the trolls. Now that my little episode or whatever is over, I’m content but I /can’t stop/ doing it. It’s addictive. And these people I’m going after–reporting their stories and slamming their work with my sockpuppet account when in reality I don’t care if they’re against guidelines–most of them pissed me off.

They said they were going to check my work out, or did and said “can’t wait to read it!” then disappeared and still happily post their work and get /tons/ of praise. It makes me so insanely angry and jealous that it feels so good to finally knock them down a peg. Fucking people always ignore and discard me when I try SO HARD and do EVERYTHING RIGHT.

One girl I reported, then used my real account and expressed my condolences over having been trolled. Bitch. I felt bad that I did it at first, that’s why I tried to remedy it, but the next day I kept on trolling.

I know what I’m doing is wrong, but for now I just can’t stop.

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