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Nobody likes internet trolls. They pop up in discussions they weren’t invited to and upset as many people as possible.
Time and time again we are told the best thing to do is ignore the inflammatory, abusive things they put on forums, comment threads, and even social media posts.
However, this is easier said than done, and thankfully there is a block function on most online communities.
Trolls lie, exaggerate, and will say pretty much anything to get a response, but what makes them this way? And why do they insult others from behind a computer screen?
According to a study from last year, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, people with the highest scores of Dark Tetrad personality traits were more likely to say trolling was their favorite internet activity.
The researchers asked over 1,200 people to take part in personality tests to determine their levels of Dark Tetrad traits, which are narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism, then asked them to fill out a survey about their internet commenting habits.
“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,” the authors of the paper wrote. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the internet is their playground.”
According to therapist and psychologist Perpetua Neo, this isn’t surprising. In their everyday lives, a psychopath or narcissist is unlikely to get “caught out” by their friends and family, and trolling people anonymously gives them a release for their less favourable qualities.
“These people they are living double lives or triple lives. You might just find this narcissist actually has three families – it’s not uncommon to hear stories like that,” Neo told Business Insider. “Trolling is a very simple, low-cost kind of way – by cost I mean your time, energy and effort – to boost your sense of power.”
In real life you can’t upset multiple people at once without a great deal of effort. Online, trolls can be offending people left, right and centre, in a very short space of time.
“It’s like a cat and mouse game,” Neo said. “Their brains are probably firing off, because that’s what trolling is about – it’s about power over someone else, and this dominance thing, to bring someone to a lower level. Especially if you enjoy the suffering.”