Internet trolls are sadists and psychopaths: Canadian study

Oxford OPP were contacted in January by a parent who had discovered a person was communicating with their child over the Internet in an inappropriate manner. Nico De Pasquale Photography/Flickr

TORONTO – If you have ever taken a close look at the comments on websites like YouTube or Reddit, you may be surprised at just how nasty Internet trolls can get – but it turns out, it might be in their nature.

A recent study titled “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun,” found that people who spend a lot of time commenting online tend to have dark personality traits and show signs of sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

Trolls – Internet slang for people who take to the web to upset people or start arguments – are users who start fights online for their own amusement.

The Canadian psychologists found the same users were also more likely to report trolling as their favourite online activity – sadists, for example, troll because they enjoy it.

READ MORE: Twitter threats highlight blight of online trolls

“The relationship between sadism and trolling was almost entirely due to the enjoyment they experience while trolling,” said Erin Buckels, lead researcher with the University of Manitoba.

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“Everyday sadists do not have a hidden agenda; they simply want to have fun, and trolling is one way that they can have fun online.”

Certain websites and online games have become a hot bed for trolls – including commonly used multimedia sites like YouTube, which has been referred to as a “special circle of hell” when it comes to trolls.

Buckels, who co-authored the study alongside University of Winnipeg researcher Paul Trapnell and University of British Columbia Delroy Paulhus, told Global News that the findings of the study were not surprising given today’s web culture.

“Our view of sadism is that enjoyment of cruelty occurs in various degrees in normal, everyday people. It is not just criminals who feel sadistic pleasure, so the fact that trolls are rather sadistic was not surprising,” said Buckels via email.

“I think most Internet users would agree with that conclusion.”

But researchers note that while personality traits like sadism and psychopathy do translate into real life, the anonymity of the Internet allows trolls to let out their aggression more easily.

“In general, our results suggest that online trolls are also cruel to others in real life,” Buckels explained.

“At the same time, the anonymity provided by the Internet may allow sadists to express their cruelty more easily online. So, at the very least, they want to be cruel to others in real life, but they may find it harder to do so.”


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