Why Internet Trolls Enjoy Making You Feel Bad

A study confirms they're sadistic and psychopathic. Don't play into their hands.

Posted Aug 04, 2016

Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko/Shutterstock
Source: Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko/Shutterstock

Internet trolls are terrible people, new research confirms.

We know that online trolls score high on the so-called Dark Tetrad of personality traits—narcissism, sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. New research, which will be published in the November 2016 issue of Personality and Individual Differences, probed deeper and found more.1 The researchers confirmed that trolls are psychopathic and sadistic. They also made a new finding: Trolls are strongly characterized by the trait of "negative social potency." This is a measure of a person's cruelty and willingness to use others for their own gain. Questions asked on this survey include things like, "I enjoy embarrassing others." In other words, it's a measure of how terrible someone is.

The researchers had approximately 400 Facebook users complete a number of surveys. They used the Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (which I wrote about here) to determine if people were trolls, as well as measures for the Dark Tetrad and for negative social potency. In the end, scoring high on negative social potency was the strongest predictor of trolling. Essentially, trolls enjoy getting attention by harming other people. The sadism component means the psychological suffering of others is also particularly enjoyable for trolls. 

Everyone already knows that trolls behave badly online. So what benefit comes from research that formalizes the description of their cruelty? As the authors write:

"By educating Facebook users that the goals of trolling are to cause social chaos through negative interpersonal interactions, this may empower users to take more educated action against trolling behavior and hopefully reduce its negative impact."

In other words, don't feed the trolls.

Craker, Naomi, and Evita March. "The dark side of Facebook: The Dark Tetrad, negative social potency, and trolling behaviours." Personality and Individual Differences, 102 (2016): 79-84.