The 'Dark Tetrad' Makes Up The World Of The Internet Troll
February 17, 2014

The ‘Dark Tetrad’ Makes Up The World Of The Internet Troll

[ Watch the Video: The Psychology Behind Internet Trolls ]

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Look almost anywhere on the Internet and you will likely find negative comments related to whatever content is featured on a webpage. Be it images, video, a news story or a blog, people just love to share their negative feedback. Now, a new study from Canadian psychologists has gone a step beyond the realms of sanity and delved deeper into the mind of the Internet troll.

Erin Buckels, of the University of Manitoba, published a new paper titled “Trolls Just Want To Have Fun” in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Buckels sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in online trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall under the so-called “Dark Tetrad.” These four traits include Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate or deceive), narcissism, psychopathy and sadism.

Buckels, along with Paul Trapnell, of the University of Winnipeg, and Delroy Paulhus, of the University of British Columbia, set up a survey of personality inventories matched with “Internet commenting styles” to determine what traits Internet trolls fall under. In essence, the team was trying to psychoanalyze the commenters, reports Kyle Chayka of TIME.

What is likely to be of no surprise to anyone, the study determined that people who like to troll are the most likely to show signs of “sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.”

While the findings make a connection between Internet trolling and these dark traits, it is not known if trolling most always occurs in sadists and psychopaths, or if the Internet has a tendency to turn people into these horrible creatures. Interestingly, the Internet does provide a certain level of anonymity, which helps trolls remain secretive, perhaps allowing sadism to shine more brightly in comments sections across the World Wide Web.

The team did note that not all negative commenters fall into the “Dark Tetrad.” The team did conclude that some online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. However, most people who use the Internet have had some run-in with trolls in some way or another. If you haven’t, then consider yourself one of the fortunate ones.

For the study, the team used a variety of tools to tease out the trolls. A simple survey asking participants what they “enjoyed doing most” when using comments sections, offered them five choices: “debating issues that are important to you,” “chatting with others,” “making new friends,” “trolling others,” and “other.”

Interestingly, the team found that only 5.6 percent of the survey respondents specified that they enjoyed “trolling.” A much larger 41.3 percent of participants said they did not use comment sections, meaning they did not like engaging online at all.

The results do confirm one theory – the fact that trolls are among the minority of online commenters and an even smaller minority of Internet users, according to Chris Mooney of Slate.

However, the fact that this subset of people is in the minority does not help bring solace to the larger Internet audience.

Many sites, including news and media outlets, have taken broad measures to help rein in Internet troll behaviors. Popular Science recently closed its comments section to rid its world of sadism and psychopathy. As well, YouTube has taken some measures to try to lessen comment negativity.

Buckels, however, doesn’t feel that this is a surefire way to fix the problem of trolling.

“Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),” She told Slate via email. “Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.”