"Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose. From a lay-perspective, Internet trolls share many characteristics of the classic Joker villain: a modern variant of the Trickster archetype from ancient folklore. Much like the Joker, trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘‘hot-button issues’’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner. If an unfortunate person falls into their trap, trolling intensifies for further, merciless amusement." (Buckels et al., 2014). The Joker is also described "as a tragic character; a family man and failed comedian who suffered "one bad day" that finally drove him insane" (via).
Social media platforms have become important means to promote cultural activism and education, to promote e.g. anti-racism, feminism, LGBT rights by raising awareness and sharing information. But they also attract racist and sexist trolls who "spread disharmony among online activists" (via). Adam Reed distinguishes the psychopathological troll from the missionary troll. While the latter is motivated by a desire to convince others that his or her favourite belief system is to be considered, the psychopathological troll is "motivated to participate in an internet forum by psychotic delusions or compulsions, or by a neurotic seeking of false self-esteem" (via). Although this is not a scientific categorisation but one based on everyday observations, there is probably a pattern to be recognised by those reading comments from time to time. In general, there is not yet much empirical research on trolling behaviour (Buckels et al., 2014).
In their studies, Buckels et al. (2014) investigated online commenting styles and personality profiles of Internet trolls. Their measures included a personality inventory, a scale to measure the Dark Triad (narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism), a scale to assess sadistic personality, questions on internet use and four items relevant to trolling: "I have sent people to shock websites for the lulz.", "I like to troll people in forums or the comments section of the websites.", "I enjoy griefing other players in multiplayer games." and "The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt." The authors found significant correlations between trolling and psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and particularly sadism. Sadism is specific to trolling behaviour. "The troll persona appears to be a malicious case of a virtual avatar, reflecting both actual personality and one's ideal self. (...) for those with sadistic personalities, that ideal self may be a villain of chaos and mayhem (...)." (Buckels, 2014).
The troll persona is an everyday sadist that hides behind a "veil of anonymity" since offline "they would quickly have their ass kicked for their incessant provocations." (via). But perhaps the biggest danger is not to be provoked but to be bored to death by comments that - once their content is translated - say "I am paranoid and have no idea what I am talking about but ignorance does not keep me from commenting and criticising everything."
Racism, sexism, ... sadism, trollism. "The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt." And diversity is beautiful.
- Buckels, E. E., Trapnell, P. D. & Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 97-102.
- photos of Cesar Romero as the Joker via and via and via and via