They'll type vicious insults, make nonsensical arguments and finish up with a mocking, "U mad bro?"
"Trolls" have plagued the comments sections of websites since the dawn of the modern Internet — feminist website Jezebel was recently infested by commenters posting images of violent pornography, and YouTube's comments section is a notoriously rough place — and now, new research has produced a depressing suggestion: Internet trolls cannot be helped because they're full-blown sadistic psychopaths.
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The study, titled "Trolls just want to have fun," compared the online activities of more than 1,200 participants to the results of personality tests taken by the participants.
The tests measured "dark tetrad" traits — direct and vicarious sadism, Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy — and found a strong correlation between each "dark" trait and online trolling.
Two other Internet behaviors — debating issues online and chatting — had a fairly neutral relationship with dark personality traits, and the most well-adjusted individuals seemed to be the ones who just didn't comment: Non-commenting was negatively correlated with each of the five dark traits.
If you've ever seen a pattern of spiteful comments from a fellow commenter and thought that, perhaps, you could help the person work past their trolling tendencies, this study could serve as a warning against your trying: It suggests that trolls are not just regular people letting off a little steam online, but rather, trolls are truly sadistic.
"Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior," researchers wrote in the paper's abstract. "Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism."
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