Most online trolls aren’t just ass*oles, but sadists, narcissists, and psychopaths

The word “troll” is an Internet slang defined as “a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.”

But who exactly are the people behind the screen, trolling for their own satisfaction? Researchers in Canada conducted two online studies, consisting of 1,215 participants, to answer that question.

The studies, first published in 2014, unmask trolls as sadists, narcissists, and psychopaths, what they call a “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits.

“Both studies revealed similar patterns of relations between trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality,” write the studys’ authors. “Trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores.”

“Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior.”

The researchers determined that these three personality traits were most common in people who cited “Online Trolling” as a favorite Internet activity. Sadism, in particular, was so strongly connected with those who enjoy trolling that researchers suggested that online trolls “are prototypical everyday sadists.”

“Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”

Simply put, these trolls want only one thing: to make you feel bad and feed into their game. So how exactly do we beat trolls at their own game?

For starters, you need to know how to identify a troll. To identify the troll, you need to look at more than what they said, but determine what the intent behind the statement was. Was it made in good faith or bad faith?

It’s easy to mistake someone online who simply disagrees as trolling. But disagreeing is not in and of itself a hallmark of trolling. People can disagree in good faith.

When someone is trolling or disagreeing in bad faith, they will frame their arguments in such a way that it elicits an emotional response from other Internet users. There is one fool-proof way to disarm a troll:

Ignore them.

The saying “Don’t feed the troll” is truly an apt one when dealing with online trolls. These trolls get pleasure from making you emotional. So if you want to spoil a troll’s fun, don’t engage. Just ignore it and move on.

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