What Makes an Internet Troll an Internet Troll

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was written for The Broad Street Bully, a blog and podcast my friend Drew and I started based off of our mutual interest in the Philadelphia Flyers. See it on http://broadstreetbully.net.]

This post is going to be very unrelated to hockey, the Flyers, or anything that you’ve seen on this site. I wrote this for Drew.

What makes an “Internet Troll”? Luckily, the Internet knows!

Internet trolls, for anyone who doesn’t already know, can be identified as:

…someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response.

[Editor’s note: Internet trolls can also be anybody you hate at work, if you loosely interpret this definition.]

Now, why would anybody waste their time just to go on the Internet and make people angry?

Information summarized by the author of an article on PsychologyToday says that Canadian researchers conducted two online studies to find out more about Internet trolling. The researchers gave their subjects personality tests and then a survey about their Internet commenting behavior. The goal was to find evidence that linked people who trolled on the Internet with “Dark Tetrad” (the name they chose sounds like an evil Star Wars character) personality traits, including narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.

On TheGuardian, details of one of the studies were further divulged. The participants were asked how frequently they commented on blogs and forums and then the researchers gauged how the subjects commented. The researchers attempted to determine if the subjects preferred debating, chatting, making friends, or trolling. Of the 418 participants in the study, 59% of the subjects actively commented on websites, while 1/10th of those admitted that their favorite activity was trolling other users.

What the researchers found was that Dark Tetrad scores were the highest among the people who enjoyed trolling on the Internet. The link was so significant, in fact, that the authors of the paper went as far to write, “… the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists.” [emphasis added]

They went on to say that, “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others.”

The study also found two interesting, and somewhat related, things, as well. Sadistic people are usually vicious and degrading towards other people. If a sadistic person is trolling on the Internet, then it’s entirely possible that the Internet allows them to redirect their real world hate energy. By inflicting harm on people through anonymous words typed on the Internet, it may keep them from doing something much more destructive in real life.

The second was that these people spent over an hour a day commenting. And this group was associated more with younger males who scored high on the tests provided in the study.  So, statistically, younger males spend too much time being jerks on the internet.

With all that being said, why do people Internet troll? There’s a technical list with really wordy explanations on PsychologyToday. I’m going to dumb it down for you right now:

  • Anonymity: It’s easier to say terrible things when your username is “Hotcakes69”. It’s also the reason comments sections make you sign in with your Facebook now. Although, surprisingly, that still doesn’t stop some people.
  • Perceived Obscurity: The belief of even though people are saying things on a public forum that nobody they deem important in their life will ever see those comments.
  • Perceived Majority Status: “It’s ok to hate everyone who likes pumpkin spice lattes because everyone hates pumpkin spice lattes.”
  • Social Identity Salience: Salience is a fancy word but, from what I can gather, people worry more about their online identity in whatever groups they are involved in more than their individual identities.
  • Surrounded by “Friends”: Say what you want because you’re assuming that your Facebook friends are going to agree with you.  I think this kind of goes hand in hand with the Perceived Majority Status.
  • Desensitization: When you see enough “I hate ‘X’” on every YouTube video about anything you like, how outraged can you be after a month?
  • Personality Traits: Unfortunately, some people are just born turds.
  • Perceived Lack of Consequences: “Who cares? It’s the Internet! I can’t get in trouble for this!  I’ll threaten whoever I want and then hide behind multiple IP addresses.”

What it ultimately comes down to, then, is if you Internet troll then you’re just a miserable person in real life. And you generally have an inflated idea of your beliefs, opinions, and yourself.

If you’re unsure if you’re an Internet troll, I’ve got a way for you to figure it out:

  1. Find an article on a website that outrages you.  Read the headline only.  Don’t muddy your comment with the facts.  Go right to the comments section.
  2. Type your comment. Pause. Don’t hit send yet. Walk away from your computer.
  3. Come back in ten minutes. Read your comment again.
  4. Close your laptop.
  5. Jam your hands in a fired up toaster oven and leave them there so you can’t ever troll on internet websites again.

It works 100% of the time!

[Editor’s note: Don’t be stupid enough to stick your hands in a toaster and don’t blame me if you do because I’m telling you not to right now.]





One thought on “What Makes an Internet Troll an Internet Troll

  1. Great read. A devoted Flyers fan who quotes Psychology Today (a favorite of mine)…it just doesn’t get any better than this..and a subject I always find fascinating. Our “social” “social media.” Thanks for dropping by sportsattitudes and please visit again!

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