21 September 2020

Sadists with high self-esteem: the traits of a troll

The Back Page

It’s comforting to believe that deep down internet trolls are just insecure, unhappy people – but psychological profiling indicates they actually feel really good about themselves.

A study of 400 people published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that low self-esteem was not predictive of trolling behaviour, but sadism and psychopathy were.

And where internet trolls scored highly on the sadism scale, they tended to have high self-esteem.

“The interaction between high sadism and high self-esteem suggests trolls are not trolling because they have low self-worth,” said Evita March, a senior lecturer in psychology at Federation University Australia and a co-author of the study.

“In fact, this is quite the opposite. The more someone enjoys hurting others and the better they feel about themselves, the more likely they are to troll.”

The study measured the extent of trolling behaviours in participants using examples, such as, “I enjoy upsetting people I do not personally know on the internet. Although some people think my posts are offensive, I think they are funny.”

Trolls aren’t cute and cuddly. Don’t fall for it. Don’t. Look away…

Online trolls are different to cyberbullies because they enjoy causing “meaningless disruption” as well as humiliation and suffering, the authors said.

The media tends to paint trolls as sad, lonely individuals because this humanises and partly rationalises their behaviour, the authors said.

The real psychological profile of an internet troll suggests that victims will “will not get far appealing to their sense of humanity,” the authors said.

“And don’t just brush off the troll as someone who has low self-worth,” the authors advised. “Their character is far more complex, which makes managing the behaviour all the more challenging.”

“Don’t feed the trolls” remains the best advice.

“Don’t fight fire with fire,” the authors said. “Respond with outward indifference and strictly no tolerance. Let’s work together to dismantle the power of the troll and take back the internet from their influence.”

If you see something stupid, say something stupid… Fight the trolls by emailing funny story tips to [email protected]

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