Study: Online Trolls Tend to Be Sadistic

Study: Online Trolls Tend to Be Sadistic February 14, 2014

Here’s the most unsurprising study result you’ll see this week (month…year…decade). A new study published in a psychology journal concludes that online trolling correlates with sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Here’s the abstract:

In two online studies (total N = 1215), respondents completed personality inventories and a survey of their Internet commenting styles. Overall, strong positive associations emerged among online commenting frequency, trolling enjoyment, and troll identity, pointing to a common construct underlying the measures. Both studies revealed similar patterns of relations between trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality: 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. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.

Caitlin Dewey responds to the study:

But the intriguing thing about this new study by researchers from University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and University of British Columbia is the idea that trolling behavior springs not from the opportunity provided by the Internet, but from innate characteristics people possess both online and off.

That bodes poorly for efforts to tame the trolls. It also suggests, somewhat ominously, that there are lots of “everyday sadists among us.”

Of course there are. The anonymity and distance of online communication provides the opportunity for them to show their true nature in ways that they cannot do in their everyday life. I have always maintained that there’s nothing fake about this kind of thing. If you spend your time acting like an asshole online, you are an asshole.


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