Trolling, an internet practice where users purposefully seek to attract others into inane and sometimes uncivil conversations, has grown in popularity with social media and other online networking websites.
Recent research by Brigham Young University has shed light on the motivations and personality characteristics that internet trolls.
The study was based on a survey that over 400 Reddit users completed. It found that people with dark personality traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy) were more likely than those with schadenfreude, a German word that means that one derives pleasure through another’s misfortune.
“People who exhibit those traits known as the dark triad are more likely to demonstrate trolling behaviors if they derive enjoyment from passively observing others suffer,” said Dr. Pamela Brubaker, BYU public relations professor and co-author of the study. “They engage in trolling at the expense of others.”
Dr. Scott Church, a BYU communications professor, and Daniel Montez, a former BYU graduate, co-authored the research. They found that trolling online was acceptable for those who enjoy taking pleasure in other people’s failures and shortcomings. The survey found that trolling was more acceptable for women than it was for men.
Church said that “this behavior may occur because it feels appropriate to this medium.” So, heavy Reddit users may feel that trolling is ‘functional’ because it’s what they do when they use Reddit.
Researchers say it is important to remember that trolling can be an enriching form of communication than it hinders online deliberation. They don’t care about how others perceive them. Trolling is not seen as an act of destruction, but as a way to have dialogue.
Brubaker stated that they are more interested in enhancing their online experience than creating positive experiences for others who don’t get the same kind of enjoyment from provocative conversations.
There is still potential for online conversations to be productive. There was no association between trolling online behavior and being openly vocal. Users who “speak up” online and express their opinions didn’t engage in trolling behavior, according to the study. These results are encouraging and indicate that civil online discourse can be achieved.
Church said, “Remember who your are online.” It helps to think of other people online as people, people with families, friends, people who feel deeply, and sometimes suffer. It is easier to trolling when we lose sight of their real identities and see them as avatars or usernames.
Brubaker recommends approaching online conversations with an open mind to be able to see different perspectives.
“Digital media gives us the power to connect with people who have similar and different ideas, interests, and experiences from our own. As we connect with people online, we should strive to be more respectful of others and other points of view, even when another person’s perspective may not align with our own,” she said. “Each of us has the power to be an influence for good online. We can do this by exercising mutual respect. We can build others up and applaud the good online.”
Related Journal Article: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/20563051211021382