Trolls went from fun-loving blood-thirsty brutal creatures in Norse fairy tales who were like the old Vikings who basically murdered and raped their way through and around Europe to the cool and sometimes funny DnD and fantasy monsters to really horrible people on the Interwebs. Anyone whose internet access hasn’t been trapped in a coal mine for the past ten years has probably been assaulted, harassed, or otherwise disturbed by the dreaded Internet troll. Lots and lots has been written about how to react to and cope with trolls. Entire forums have been shutdown by trolls. People have been driven to suicide by trolls. The Interwebs trolls are the horriblest people imaginable and now it is science fact!
Examples of Trolling
The most disturbing ones are the elaborate fantasies for how I should be raped or maimed or killed in order to “teach me a lesson” about why whatever I’ve written is so wrong. I’ve received recommendations that I should be sodomized with a gun, that I should be raped by a thousand men, that I should be raped and murdered by terrorists, and that I should be handed over to ISIS to become another journalist murdered on camera — and those are just the ones I happen to remember off the top of my head, not a complete list.
In the article, Susan Svrluga reports that “Pozner [father of Sandy Hook victim] said he gets ugly comments often on social media, such as, ‘Eventually you’ll be tried for your crimes of treason against the people,’ ‘…I won’t be satisfied until the caskets are opened…’ and ‘How much money did you get for faking all of this?'”
Stalking Laws and Impulse Control
Seriously, this is some gross twisted shit. What gives? Why do people — mostly men — do this? I used to quip, Anonymity and poor impulse control are a bad combination. And, there is some truth to that. Anyone can make a social media or email account. It you worry about it being traced back to your IP Address, it is easy enough to use a public computer for this crap. But, seriously, there is so much trolling on the Interwebs that who is going to bother except for in the most egregious cases. Let’s face it, if the parents of the children and adults slaughtered at bleeding Sandy Hook can’t get the haters to stop hatin’ on them, who can? When the President of the US is crying on national TV for all love about the crime, you’d think Justice and FBI would stop it if it could be stopped, right?
Can anyone say whether any kind of law has been violated? Do you know? Do I know? Does anyone know? What are your rights online? Of course, in the States it varies by state, and there is a federal anti-stalking law that covers Internet stalking. The federal law only makes threats of harm prosecutable. The National Center for Victims of Crime has a stalking resources page that lists all the statutes concerning stalking in the US. Apparently, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand have laws against internet trolling with the UK jailing five a day.
So, there’s that stuff. Maybe there is hope after all for the Interwebs to be a safe place to play for men, women, children, minorities, the LGBTQ population, small puppies, hamsters, and kittens. But, probably that is a little Pollyannaish on my part. So, sue me, why don’t, ya? Just because inside this crusty sarcastic cynical curmudgeonly shell is a living beating pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna.
Personality Traits of an Interwebs Troll
Why do haters hate and trollers troll? Psychology addresses the problem from several angles: personality, social psychology, and cognitive psychology. My little quip is about cognitive psychology. It gets to executive function, which among other things addresses impulse control and imagining the consequences of your actions. Social psychology encompasses the effects of group membership and identification and dehumanization. Personality psychology addresses those traits within us that we carry from situation to situation, you know the things that make you a special little snowflake or whatever. That give us some continuity in our behavior, thoughts, and reactions as we travel through this glorious wonderment called life. Ooh. I just threw-up a little bit in my mouth.
Trolls Just Wanna Have Fun!
We start with a 2014 study, Trolls Just Want to have Fun. The authors surveyed over 1,000 individuals concerning their personalities and commenting histories. They found, through the magic of statistics, that there was a strong correlation between these three factors: commenting frequency, the enjoyment of trolling, and identifying as a troll. This type of statistical association strongly suggests a common variable linking all three.
Now, here is the earth shaking part: Online trolling behavior is a form of sadism. Yes, you read that right. Fucking Inter fucking net fucking trolls are SADISTS! And, not even the fun kind of sadists. They just like causing people discomfort and pain and sadness. If they weren’t so fucking disgusting, I might feel sorry for them. More thoughts:
- It is everyday sadism!
- Now, think: how many mo’fo’s be out there trollin! Now, that is a lot of sadists in this world. Kinda scary.
- Trolling also paired up with psychopathy and Machiavellianism, but sadism had the strongest correlative link.
Dark Triad & Dark Tetrad
These three traits, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism, when taken together along with narcissism, make the Dark Tetrad! Without the sadism, it is just the Dark Triad. I bet you’re wondering Am I a Dark Triader? Take the Dark Triad Questionnaire and find out! I am infrequently vile. Whoo-hoo! Good times. Take the test and post your results in the comments.
Check out the figure below for how strongly the Dark Tetrad correlates with trolling! Wow! That is impressive. The only thing these mo’fo’s do online is troll. They don’t like to debate, chat, not-comment, or other.
In all of the summaries of the study including the study’s abstract, they say sadism correlates the strongest with trolling and psychopathy and Machiavellianism also correlate highly, but narcissism doesn’t. But, the graph above suggests that it does. What gives here? I guess the answer lies in the original publication of the study in Personality and Individual Differences (It costs like $40.00 to read the damned thing, and I ain’t paying it. Sorry. If you pay it and care to share in the comments, please do).
Goals & Motivations for Trolls by the Dark Tetrad
The narcissist is motivated to troll by a narcissistic wound. A narcissist is someone who has an excessive sense of their own importance and worth, is overly occupied with themselves, and has little to no empathy for others. Among other things, narcissists need constant attention, praise, and reassurance, and will fall into a rage if they feel they have been slighted. Sound like anyone we all know? If you said, Donald Trump, you’d be right.
A narcissistic wound occurs when a steady source of admiration, adulation, and praise has been removed and, possibly, even an insult or other slight has been perceived. Narcissists do not have boundaries. They will suck the life from whomever they can. They will take and manipulate and never ever give back. So, it is easy to imagine a narcissist commenting on a thread and getting some praise and admiration for their “expert” comments when suddenly things go pear-shaped and the narcissist feels slighted, rejected, and ignored. That’s when the bombs start flying.
Machiavellianism is a psychological concept that refers to a manipulative, cynical, and shrewd personality. For the Machiavellian personality, the ends justify the means and other people are just another means to that end. I imagine that such a person just wants to manipulate others when being a troll. They aren’t necessarily out to hurt anyone, nor do they want praise and admiration, but they do want to watch people jump through hoops. Rather like this guy.
Psychopaths are people who have a remarkable lack of empathy, are callous, and are manipulative. Often they are given to lying, have lack a sense of guilt, blame others for everything, are impulsive, and are charming. There is a clear deficit in the areas of the brain that will restrain immoral behavior. The diminished sense of guilt allows a psychopath to do whatever they like. The diminished sense of empathy means that a psychopath doesn’t care if you get hurt. The only thing that limits a psychopath’s behavior is getting caught.
Psychopaths probably do not go looking to troll. They probably do it because they are bored. They happen upon it or go back to it. They don’t necessarily enjoy the pain they cause, they just don’t care if they do. Given that they can be arrogant and condescending, they are far more likely to troll just to put people in their place or because they can or because the victim deserves, but whatever the reason, it ain’t their fault!
Sadists are people who derive pleasure from the pain of others. We all know that. It is often associated with sensual pain and a resulting sensual pleasure all wrapped up in a consensual context. But everyday sadists are people who not only feel pleasure when others are in pain, they seek out opportunities to hurt innocents. There is also a difference between those who would physically hurt someone and those who would only mentally or verbally harm others. Obviously, Internet trolls are everyday sadists who seek opportunities to mentally or verbally hurt people.
The one thing that ties all of these personality traits together is callousness, a blatant disregard for the well-being of others. Each in their own way is willing to hurt others for their own gain. This is no where more obvious than with the Internet troll.
Your Drunk Uncle
Just like your drunk uncle loves to get a rise out of you, the sadistic Interwebs trolls gets all the pleasures out of doing all the trolling because he or she gets a rise out you. But, just like there ain’t no stopping your drunk uncle short of not inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner, there is no real stopping the trolls short of closing down your comments section.
And just like your drunk uncle depends on your reaction to keep going, all the Dark Tetrad traits that drive Interwebs trolls depend upon your reaction to keep them going, ignoring them is likely to be your bestest bet on getting them to desist, especially the sadist. If the sadist can’t derive any pleasure from your pain, then he or she is going to go look for another victim. Just like burglary, you want to make your house more difficult to burgal than your neighbor’s, and you want to make some other schmuck much easier to troll than yourself.
Well, that’s uplifting and heartwarming and all that shit, ain’t it? Thanks Obama!
Say why don’t youins tell us all about a heartwarming uplifting interaction you had with a Interwebs troll in the comments!