Urban Dictionary defines troll as “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”
Appropriately, the etymology or origin of the English noun troll in the standard sense of ugly dwarf or giant dates to 1610 and comes from the Old Norse word ‘troll’ meaning giant or demon.
Like other sites, FOTM has our share of obnoxious trolls. An example is a demonic troll who first called himself Lets Kill Birthers and made death threats against our writers. I repeatedly banned him, but he kept coming back by using a seemingly endless series of aliases — Birthers are Traitors, Why Lie, Truth Hurts, Want Truth?, James Spader, Jasper, John Bingham, David Strange, Jason Jones, JasperX, John Jasper, Jack, middle upperclass guy, hater of trashjerks, Tom, Tom’sBro, tbm, Tman, The Humphrey. Boss Hogg, paid blogger, Devil’s Advocate, Tom Franks. And so I cut to the quick by addressing him simply — and appropriately — as Legion.
Interestingly, Legion’s trolling stopped at around the time that an Obamabot named Adam Eugene Cox was arrested, and found guilty, for making death threats against Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
It, therefore, comes as no surprise to me that a new psychological study, E.E. Buckels et al, “Trolls just want to have fun,” Personality and Individual Differences, 2014, determined that online trolls are narcissistic, manipulative, deceptive, sadistic PSYCHOPATHS.
In other words, trolls are evil.
Chris Mooney reports for the Daily Mail, Feb. 14, 2014, that new research by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues sought to investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in 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 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.
In the study, trolls were identified in a variety of ways. One was by simply asking survey participants what they “enjoyed doing most” when on online comment sites, offering five options: “debating issues that are important to you,” “chatting with others,” “making new friends,” “trolling others,” and “other.”
The researchers conducted multiple studies, using samples from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk but also of college students, to try to understand why the act of trolling seems to attract this type of personality. They even constructed their own survey instrument, which they dubbed the “Global Assessment of Internet Trolling” or GAIT, comprised of the following items:
- 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.
Yes, some people actually say they agree with such statements. And again, doing so was correlated with sadism in its various forms, with psychopathy, and with Machiavellianism. Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” they wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun…and the Internet is their playground!”
The study comes as websites, particularly at major media outlets, are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior. Last year Popular Science did away with its comments sections completely, citing research on the deleterious effects of trolling, and YouTube also took measures to rein in trolling.
But Erin Buckles of the University of Manitoba, the study’s first author, actually isn’t sure that fix is a realistic one. She wrote in an email: “Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users). Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.”
This is how FOTM deals with psychopaths who make death threats:
1. We respond with this comment:
It is a federal crime, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, to transmit any communication containing a threat to injure the person of another, via the Internet and e-mail (as well as the telephone, beepers, and other means of communication). Should any reader of this blog threaten harm to our writers, we will report you and your IP address to the police.
The following information on commenter __ has been turned over to law enforcement:
- IP address: ______
- E-mail address: _______
2. Since trolls troll because they think they’re protected by the Internet’s anonymity, if you threaten us, we’ll hunt you down and unmask you, including what you look like.
- Birthers Receive Death Threats, Jan. 11, 2011.
- Liberals Wish Death for Sarah Palin, Jan. 15, 2011.
- Death Threats by Leading Libs and Democrats, Jan. 12, 2011.