This post is in response to Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists by Jennifer Golbeck


Yesterday I posted

about a study that describes internet trolls as narcissistic, sadistic, and psychopathic. A lot of people commented about their own internet behavior, wondering if their provocative comments count as "trolling." (And judging by the comments that article received, some readers certainly qualify as trolls). Some people questioned if simply making a disruptive comment counted as trolling. 

Fortunately, there is a technical answer to those questions!

In the same study from yesterday, the authors introduced a measure of someone's trolliness (that's my term, not theirs). They call it the Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (GAIT). Subjects in their study were shown these four statements: 

  1. I have sent people to shock websites for the lulz.
  2. I like to troll people in forums or the comments section of websites.
  3. I enjoy griefing other players in multiplayer games.
  4. The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt.

The first three statements measure enjoyment and experience with trolling, and the last one measures how closely someone identifies with the trolling "culture."

Subjects were asked to rate how well each statement described them on a five-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The average of a person's ratings for these four statements became their GAIT, or trolliness, score.

The main idea is that trolls are people who make comments to upset others because they find joy in upsetting people. It's not just that the comments are disruptive or provocative - it is that the poster makes them with the intent of enjoying the suffering of others. 

I talked to one of the authors of the study, and she gave me some data you can use for comparison. Among people who make online comments, the mean GAIT score in their data was 1.47 (on a 1-5 scale),  with a standard deviation of 0.78. Among everyone in their study (commenters and non-commenters alike), the mean GAIT score was 1.54 (basically the same).

Remember - 1 is the lowest possible score a person could get, since people are rating those statements on a 1-5 scale. Thus, most people are scoring quite low. According to the author, if your score is over 2.25 (roughly one standard deviation above the mean), that would be pretty high.

She also sent me one more interesting insights. When people had a GAIT score under 3, there was a mix of sadists and non-sadists. Once the GAIT score climbed above 3.5, everyone in that range was highly sadistic (according to other tests they administered).

So - want to know if you're a troll? Rate yourself honestly on those 4 statements, average your ratings, and you have a trolliness score. If it's over 2.25, you're trollier than a lot of people in the original study, and if it's much over 3, you're probably solidly in troll category.

References

[1] Buckels, Erin E., Paul D. Trapnell, and Delroy L. Paulhus. "Trolls just want to have fun." Personality and Individual Differences 67 (2014): 97-102.

Photo adapted from original by Kevin Dooley

About the Author

Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D.

Jennifer Golbeck, Ph.D., is a computer scientist and professor at the University of Maryland.

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