- John Noonan / Unsplash
- About 1% of the population are psychopaths.
- This means there is a fair chance many of us have at least one psychopathic Facebook friend.
- Some studies have looked into how people with Dark Tetrad personality traits behave on social media.
Psychopaths are prevalent online. Studies have shown that people with Dark Tetrad personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism – are more likely to say trolling is their favourite internet activity.
Research has also shown that men are more likely than women to bully people online.
The amount of psychopaths in the global population is thought to be about 1%. That means for people with hundreds of friends on social media, you might be in with a good chance of at least one of them being a diagnosable psychopath.
With trolling, a psychopath can use anonymity as a mask to fulfil their psychopathic tendencies, while maintaining a normal persona in real life. But this is difficult to do with a personal Facebook profile. So how would you be able to tell?
There are some obvious signs of psychopathy, such as the person not seeming to care whether they are posting provocative or toxic content. Psychopaths have something called a “resistance to chaos,” which means they do not get wound up by drama. In fact, they sometimes thrive on the fact they are causing other people stress and discomfort.
But there are more subtle signs too. According to one study of 6,724 participants, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, people who score high in psychopathy personality tests often write posts relating to their own needs and satisfaction. They also tended to write more posts about authority-related issues and politics.
The authors of the study offered two explanations for the focus on politics.
“One interpretation is that psychopathic individuals are attracted to these topics because they revolve around issues of power, authority, and conflict that they might find particularly attractive,” the authors wrote.
“In addition, these topics on social media are often rife with conflict and may provide a venue for aggressive online behaviours that psychopathic individuals are prone to engage in.”
The second explanation is that there has been high levels of exposure to inflammatory political material on social media, which could have “unleashed psychopathic tendencies in some individuals.”
For example, do you have a friend who is always posting provocative political articles, even though they always receive a backlash? They could be getting enjoyment out of antagonising people. They might not believe in whatever they are posting, but they are too satisfied by the chaos they create to stop.
The third sign of Dark Tetrad traits was that Machiavellianists wrote shorter posts with shorter sentences. One theory for this was they may share less because it allows them to have more control over how others see them.
A different study, also published in Computers in Human Behavior, looked at Machiavellianism specifically – behaviours associated with cynicism, emotional detachment, and the willingness to manipulate people.
Results showed that Machiavellian men and women engage in higher levels of self-monitoring, self-promotion, aggression, and dishonesty on Facebook. The women were found to be more aggressive to close friends, and the men boasted about themselves more.
An example of the relational aggression the researchers found would be when you see a friend jumping on someone else’s status to criticise their opinion. Another example could be when an older relative comments on one of your posts in a patronising way, suggesting you are ignorant of the topic.
None of these are sure signs that someone is a psychopath or a narcissist. But if you have a suspicion someone is manipulative, you might want to look out for the potential red flags.