How can you tell an internet troll? BYU study says there are 2 ways

Bill Mount

A new study from BYU has offered a look at how to know whether or not you’re a social media troll. The BYU study — published in the journal Social Media and Society — identified two key factors: You have “dark triad” personality traits, such as narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. […]

A new study from BYU has offered a look at how to know whether or not you’re a social media troll.

The BYU study — published in the journal Social Media and Society — identified two key factors:

  1. You have “dark triad” personality traits, such as narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.
  2. You have a tendency to get pleasure from seeing other people fail or suffer misfortune.

The study took a survey of 400 Reddit users to see their internet habits. The researchers found that people who “experienced pleasure from the failures or shortcomings of others considered trolling to be acceptable online behavior.”

  • Women in the study said trolling was a dysfunctional thing, whereas men found it to be functional.

Dr. Pamela Brubaker, BYU public relations professor and co-author of the study, said in a statement that these trolls act out to hurt others and to see others fail.

  • “People who exhibit those traits known as the dark triad are more likely to demonstrate trolling behaviors if they derive enjoyment from passively observing others suffer,” he said. “They engage in trolling at the expense of others.”
  • “This behavior may happen because it feels appropriate to the medium,” said Scott Church, BYU communications professor and research co-author. “So, heavy users of the platform may feel like any and all trolling is ‘functional’ simply because it’s what people do when they go on Reddit.”

Internet trolls are a problem for many. In fact, a recent Pew Research report found that 64% of Americans have said that social media has a negative impact on society and their lives. Trolls, the report said, don’t make the internet any safer.

Dealing with trolls is an entirely different matter. In some cases, trolls can be defeated by counter arguments, Susan Benesch, a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, told Boston Magazine.

  • “(Engaging in counter-speech) might convince people to stop posting their awful, racist, homophobic stuff, even if it might not change their mindset in general. But it would be better than nothing to get them to stop posting that garbage,” Benesch said, according to Boston Magazine.

But Tim Dowling at The Guardian suggested that people should try to expose their trolls, which will limit their impact.

  • “Trolls thrive on anonymity, but they’re not, in my experience, too careful about guarding it. A little digging will usually turn up something that makes their bile seem beside the point,” Dowling said. “The information you uncover needn’t include names, addresses or photographs — just enough to turn your rage into pity.”
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