back to article It's a scientific fact: Online comment trolls are sadists

A group of Canadian researchers has given the imprimatur of social-science recognition to a fact that many of us who spend time in internet comment forums have suspected: there's a strong correlation between online trolling and sadism. "Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to …

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  1. Mikel

    Commantards?

    Seems more a survey of members of Mechanical Turk. And if you got your money that way, what would you be like?

  2. Vociferous

    Are there really all that many trolls?

    There's tons upon tons of people with offensive views (racists, nazis, animal rights activists, man's rights activists, libertarians, 50-centers, furries, religious nuts...) but as far as I can tell they're nearly all 100% genuine and say the darnedest things not because they want to annoy, but because they want to "get their message out".

    A troll to me (and to this study) is someone who, say, posts a recipe for barbecued chihuahua to a pet owner's site for shits & giggles, and that kind of trolling seems to be rare.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

      I was with you until you dissed furries, then I realised that you're just a troll.

      1. Vociferous

        Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

        > I was with you until you dissed furries, then I realised that you're just a troll.

        Stick around. For my encore I will discuss the rampant pedophilia in anime.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

      I've long thought of most of those on your list as people who feel inferior and are overcompensating, looking for easy targets because it's all they can handle, or minorities because they know others like them will back them up, ultimately because the ones they're trying to fool are themselves. Hatred is the response to fear of the poorly-educated. Homophobes are afraid they themselves are gay, so by being anti-gay 'prove' themselves hetero; racists believe themselves inadequate and try to deflect recognition of their pathetic insufficiency by pointing at minority groups in an attempt to come over as 'disadvantaged' because of them. And so on.

      Some are brainwashed, of course; doesn't invalidate it, but not sure if you can prove the emptiness at the pit of their being, in which case, personally-speaking, I'd lock them up somewhere like Broadmoor before they can hurt anyone, or anyone else.

      I don't think it's exactly a new idea that the average internet troll is someone who feels insignificant and powerless. I suppose it has parallels with online gaming, except the game is a largely text-based fantasy in which our wimp strides about the virtual stage, a hand on their faces, left and right pushing people - not orcs, not aliens, not psychopaths - to the ground by virtue of his superior and fearless intellect.

      I actually feel sorry for them, thinking of them as individuals rather than personality-types.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Justice Tugboathat

        I've spotted that you are in fact Sanctimonious Prick masquerading under a pseudonym and I claim my £100 prize.

        (See what I did there?)

      2. fajensen Silver badge

        Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

        I don't think it's exactly a new idea that the average internet troll is someone who feels insignificant and powerless.

        But it is only an idea along with the "money cannot buy happiness"-quip. People spouting it are hoping in vain that there is some Karma working somewhere in the universe.

        Well, there isn't:

        People hate other races, genders, religions, professions, social classes e.t.c. *because they feel better than them*, the homophobes e.t.c really do see themselves as superior human beings especially compared to homos. By being such good people they feel that they *have actually earned the right* to punish, hurt and ridicule the lesser, worthless persons and it makes them happy to do "gods work".

        These people are not "pathetic" or "insufficient" - in other words - weaklings that can be safely ignored by us civilised and sophisticated folks because they will never amount to much. They do mean exactly what they say and they will do exactly what they threaten to do, should they ever assume any authority! They will not feel sorry for you in return, they will feel happy with you getting what you deserve!

      3. h4rm0ny

        Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

        >>"I've long thought of most of those on your list as people who feel inferior and are overcompensating, looking for easy targets because it's all they can handle, or minorities because they know others like them will back them up, ultimately because the ones they're trying to fool are themselves. Hatred is the response to fear of the poorly-educated. Homophobes are afraid they themselves are gay, so by being anti-gay 'prove' themselves hetero; racists believe themselves inadequate and try to deflect recognition of their pathetic insufficiency by pointing at minority groups in an attempt to come over as 'disadvantaged' because of them. And so on."

        That's an old idea that's never really correlated well with reality, ime. It's obvious why the idea has appeal - "ha ha! You're homophobic because secretly you're afraid you're gay", but save for the odd case of someone in denial or over-compensating because they are suspected of being whatever the target is, I don't think it's true.

        Now they may very well often be directing their anger at an available target as a general channel for their anger or outlet for their problems. That's very common. But the whole "homophobes are secretly gay" doesn't hold up, ime.

        1. Vociferous

          Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

          > the whole "homophobes are secretly gay" doesn't hold up

          Unless they're religious.

      4. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        One man's discussion

        You, sir are a troll!

        Begone.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

      There are lot of IBM trolls for sure. They enjoy when HP or Oracle has problems, and FUD a lot. Just for fun. In fact, IBM was the first company to start using FUD on a wide and systematic scale, so it is no big surprise that IBM supporters troll and FUD a lot.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt#Definition

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are there really all that many trolls?

      50 Chihuahua legs, 8 cups tomato sauce, 2 cups soy sauce, 1 cup brown sugar, 10 jalapeños, 1 sliced onion...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sad but true....

    And as often as not they pretend to be Apple fanboys.

    That way they take the piss out of everyone, fanboys included.

    1. Paddy

      Re: Sad but true.... Mac havialism

      So it seems I was not the only one to at first read the last of the bad traits as Mac-havialism.

      From: "... narcissism, and Machiavellianism"

    2. Keep Refrigerated

      Re: Sad but true....

      Yep... reading through that article I immediately thought of iTards/fanbois.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    So, uhm...

    What does this make me when I start trolling the trolls (sometimes done to expose them or call them out) and when doing so actually take pleasure in the fact that some goofball buries himself completely in his own lies; right up to a point where he's caught in his own web?

    More sadistic than the sadists or a rightful "hero" who's using proportional "virtual violence"?

    I guess in the end I'm the cynic when it comes to studies such as these ;)

    1. channel extended
      Trollface

      Re: So, uhm...

      I suppose that would make you a sadistic sadist. That solves the re-entrant condition, now you need to solve a re-cursive, and re-locatable.

      If you are completely re-locatable you are likely homeless.

      If you are completely re-cursive you likely screw yourself.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: So, uhm...

        'Sadistic sadist" is redundant, so I guess if you are one you collect your severance package and are escorted to the factory gate c/w a box full of your Bobblehead, Furby and USB Missile Turret collection by security.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So, uhm...

      "What does this make me when I start trolling the trolls..."

      Is it truely possible to troll a true troll? After all, they (by definition) don't care about what they post, so the most you could do is confuse them. That might be fun, but it hardly qualifies as trolling.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So, uhm...

      Just remember the old joke about the Sadist and Masohist:

      M: Hit me, hit me please...

      S (with glee): Nooo, nooo I will not.

      On a more serious note - this research is from the department of bleeding obvious. True trolls (of the kind you will find on F***book and Tw*tter have a personality which overlaps very nicely with the definition of Sadism.

      In any case. Most of it has been covered 10+ years ago: http://www.politicsforum.org/images/flame_warriors/index.php

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: So, uhm...

        "M: Hit me, hit me please...

        S (with glee): Nooo, nooo I will not."

        An oldy but a goody.

      2. Swarthy
        Joke

        Re: So, uhm...

        On a more serious note - this research is from the department of bleeding obvious

        Indeed. It has long been known that Trolls are the sadist people on t'Net. Even sadder than the OS/2 developer community.

        But trolling makes them into the happiest of sadists.

    4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      LOL I TROLL U

      "What does this make me when I start trolling the trolls"

      A poseur who is bad at lying.

      Did I mention Hitler, btw?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re Trolls:

    Oggy oggy oggy, Orc Orc Orc - whoops, wrong script!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Funny...

    Given the dismissive drubbing the swivel-eyed trolls are usually dished out round here, I'd always assumed their apparently insatiable appetite for more made them masochists.

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Belongs in the Department of the Obvious, maybe?

    I think anyone who's been around forums, chat rooms, BBS's (old school), etc. for any period time knew this already. I won't insult real boffins by calling these folks boffins but to think.. they got paid for this. Nice work if you can get it, I guess.

    1. solo

      Re: Belongs in the Department of the Obvious, maybe?

      Obvious it may sound to you, but, obviously the sadists don't know they are so. I find such research works unnecessarily costly but important tool of a humble society to remind the bad guys that they this specific bad gene.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Canadian research .. get it?

    A little too sensitive those Canadians. Poking their nose into forums to find sadism???

  9. veti Silver badge

    Can you say "sample bias"?

    So... the research is based on surveying people who self-identify as trolls?

    To me it seems at least superficially plausible that people who are willing to cop to that, are also more likely to answer the other survey questions - provocatively.

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: Can you say "sample bias"?

      Indeed.

      > The participants ... 5.6 per cent said that trolling was their favorite

      I don't think the surveyors realised they had been trolled by those responses.

      As it is, they had a mere 418 participants, of whom a trifling 5.6% or 23.4 individuals (point 4 - huh???). So they based their whole conclusion on the unverified responses of less than two dozen people in a highly specialised group in one particular country.

      The online summary does not reveal if the test had other "telltales" embedded in their questionnaire for different traits. Without knowing that, it's impossible to say if the test was intended to look for this particular trait. That in itself is enough to cast doubt on the conclusions they drew. It would be interesting to know if they tested for different traits or conditions (e.g. drunkenness), whether they found any sorts of correlations with those, too.

      File under: worthless.

      1. Vociferous

        Re: Can you say "sample bias"?

        > File under: worthless.

        The size of the study group means that the absolute numbers can't be trusted, but the conclusion that trolling (in the sense intentionally upsetting people just for fun) is a form of sadism... well, that seems self-evidently true to me.

        1. Pete 2 Silver badge

          Re: Can you say "sample bias"?

          I understand your position. As with most things in life, there is no "black or white" answer, but a range to responses all along the line. At the one end we might have gentle teasing (or humour that the recipient simply did not understand and misinterpreted). At the other we have out-and-out hate and loathing. Somewhere in the middle we have the sort of activity seen in some children who haven't been taught to behave: simple meanness.

          Depending on the reaction of the people who see a post, they could classify it as trolling - or not. Jjust as some people are too easily offended by racial comments, bare skin, irreligious remarks or "bad" language, whereas others are more tolerant and easy-going and would let it pass.

          So for the study to say Trolling == sadism fails in both its definition of what trolling actually is (no objective test) and in the graduation of behaviours and their underlying causes. Some trolling may be due to sadism, for sure. However the study, as reported, is a blunt instrument and without any means of quantifying or identifying cause or effect (or even false answers) has little to offer - except, as you say, in stating the self-evident.

      2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Can you say "sample bias"?

        This article is a summary of a study, not the whole study. The errors bars on the graph indicate that it's a small sample, but it still looks statistically significant to me. For the rest of your questions you could, you know, read the study itself.

  10. Gray Ham

    To summarise ....

    Looking at the graphs presented, I think my interpretation would be "nice guys don't post on online forums".

    Oh....

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Devil

      Re: To summarise ....

      Well quite.

      Also interesting was the finding that the more time that the respondents spent in comment forums, the higher their scores for each Dark Tetrad trait except narcissism.

      Checks: 2523 posts • joined 18 Jun 2009

      Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

      Although, speaking as a confirmed sadist, I do find it rather annoying that in order to post on here, I have to press the submit button...

      1. h4rm0ny

        Re: To summarise ....

        >>"the higher their scores for each Dark Tetrad trait except narcissism."

        Ah, but are such people simply more prone to post online a lot, or does spending a lot of time engaging in discussions online increase those traits.

        I think the latter. I believe I've become more vicious and Machiavellian from spending a lot of time online last year. Hopefully reversible now I'm on the Internet less again.

      2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        Abridged twofer

        "Antisocial individuals have greater opportunities to connect with similar others, and to pursue their personal brand of 'self expression' than they did before the advent of the Internet."

        Is there any other kind having any other kind doing any other kind with any other kind being kind of kind like that, like?

        Nah! Schism.

  11. akeane

    Boring...

    What a boring study!

    A far better analysis is provided here: http://www.urban75.com/Mag/troll.html

    and contains many helpful tips for this sadly dying art :-(

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Boring...

      As I understand the academic world, these days;

      1.) Academics have to publish a sufficient number of papers to keep their jobs

      2.) The quality of the publication is not relevant to that aim, as long as they can get into a journal.

      3.) The journals they publish in are operating in a commercial world so tend to accept articles that are likely to attract attention, and......

      4.) Research grants are given by bodies who have their own axes to grind, fashion and political support being two key ones

  12. Chairo
    Trollface

    Troll types

    I wonder what kind of different troll types there are.

    Up to now I identified 3 types:

    - The foam in the mouth "my system is best" type

    - The offensive re-poster of the same sentence, depending on the headline (usually AC)

    - The accuser (everyone with another opinion is a corporate shill)

    I suppose there must be much more. Any suggestions?

    1. Bob Merkin
      Trollface

      Re: Troll types

      I tend to think that the definition of "troll" has changed a bit since the 90s. A troll used to be a skilled manipulator of a forum's emotional hot buttons. They could come in feigning ignorance and drop an obvious loaded question: "So, why hasn't Google ever made an iPad? Is it because they can't do it as well as Apple so they don't bother?" Then they just sit back and wait for the flames to start rolling in. A good troll knew exactly what got a particular newsgroup or forum riled up, and would start arguments by using ignorance to suggest the local sacred cow was anything but.

      These days, it seems anyone with an obnoxious attitude or an unpopular opinion is considered a troll. I've even seen posters labeled "troll" simply for stating a perfectly defensible, mainstream opinion that just wasn't shared by the next obnoxious internet loudmouth posting directly afterward.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Troll types

        A troll used to be a skilled manipulator of a forum's emotional hot buttons.

        The speed with which many Newsgroup discussions back in the mid-90s could get hijacked and descend into transatlantic slanging matches astonished me. Usually over why the US turned up so late for WWII vs. you'd all be speaking German without us.

        Weirdly I've not seen that particular argument break out for years. Perhaps I hang out in a better class of forum now? Nah, this is El Reg. Can't be...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Troll types

        Trolling the old-school way is not as much fun anymore. It used to be a Devil's Advocate kind of deal. Instead of juicy bites and an apparent debate these days you just get Call Of Duty level illiterate responses.

        People who are referred to as trolls these days just seem to be those who are being generally offensive and taking cheap shots. No skill at all, and without appreciation of the skill, where's the fun?

        1. roselan

          Re: Troll types

          orcs killed the trolls

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Troll types

        Upvote for you, Sir. I logged in with the express intention of saying something similar, but you beat me to it.

        I think it's sort of sad that the true meaning of a 'troll' in its online context has been lost. Terms seem to get re-purposed to accommodate those that don't understand them, instead of the emphasis being on making those persons *learn* what they mean - hacker / cracker for example (boring example but there it is).

    2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Troll types

      How many types of troll?

      LOTS

      as in "one, two, many, LOTS"

      Ok, I'm going. At ease Sgt Detritus

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    Chario you have much to learn, please consult this well known FAQ:

    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/alt.troll/msPzkJhMzAw/jg1ZnOFxLrwJ

  14. cracked
    Stop

    Insufficient Informations

    I do get mildly flustered when some Reg-er has obviously read the full thing but - probably for wishy washy journalist-brotherhood reasons? - decides not to provide all of the pertinent information in the write up.

    Yes, I clicked the link and Internets said, "Javascript blah blah blah" and so I closed the link.

    Now, what I need to know is, what percentage of people ticked "debating issues that are not important to you" when asked "What do you enjoy doing most on these comment sites?"; and to which of the Dark Tetrad trait(s) did those people most closely correlate?

    1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Heecho!

      You are from Barcelona.

      For future reference (and nothing to do with trolling) one NEVAH ever, EVAH! goes to a link without the post it come in also having a discussion of said link's content. Consider the Danish version of the above for example:

      http://piv.pivpiv.dk/

      Not many people appreciate the difference. (Of course as with foreign language translators, a lot of the humour is lost.)

  15. ratfox Silver badge
    Trollface

    Love it

    You all nerds living in your mom's basement keep trying to find reasons to feel good about the fact you never can win an argument on the web!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Love it

      Sadist!

    2. nitsedy

      Re: Love it

      Close, but we're in YOUR mom's basement...

  16. DF118

    Cheers Reg

    Now I've got Cyndi Lauper stuck in my head.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      stuck in my head

      Try this one then,

      Hey Mickey!

      Hey Mickey!

      ;-)

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Devil

        Re: stuck in my head

        notauser,

        I don't know if you're a troll for saying that. But you certainly are a sadist! Aaaaarrrrggghhhh!!!!!

        Never gonna give you up,

        Never gonna let you down,

        Never gonna run around and desert you...

        1. Crisp

          Re: stuck in my head

          ooh eeh ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang

          1. Swarthy

            Re: stuck in my head

            Mahna mahna.

            1. Red Bren

              Re: stuck in my head

              Doo doooo d-doo-doo

              1. Death Boffin
                Mushroom

                Re: stuck in my head

                Time to go nuclear on this thread...

                "Its a small world after all"

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ I ain't Spartacus

          Have some schaudenfreude, I seem to have sustained a self-inflicted wound with my previous comment.

  17. DropBear
    Holmes

    You don't say...

    "Also interesting was the finding that the more time that the respondents spent in comment forums, the higher their scores for each Dark Tetrad trait except narcissism" - well what else would you expect people to stick around for, once they've been around long enough to realize that a) nobody ever managed to change anyone's mind about anything via forum debate, and b) nobody ever goes to a forum to listen to anybody's opinion but rather to have his own expressed (mainly about how everyone else's is totally wrong). Where's the surprise...?

    1. monkeyfish

      Re: You don't say...

      @Dropbear: YOUR option is totally WRONG and your mind easily be changed by online forums. SEE it's changing NOW!!1!

  18. jake Silver badge

    Meow.

    c.f. a.f.kmn

    Taking the mick isn't sadism. It's improv/satire/parody.

    Bottom line: don't read adult material unless you are an adult.

    Likewise, if you are a parent, parent. You don't HAVE to allow your pre-teen to have unfettered access to the internet, you know.

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    Wot?

    No comments from known trolls?

    Poooooor.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    but ...

    What if the psycoboffin is a troll?

  21. theblackhand

    I accept my jokes are bad

    ...but I don't really get much pleasure from the jokes being bad. More disappointment that others didn't find it funny..

    Am I doing it wrong?

    Or should I just flagellate myself as I post and accept I'm in the masochist camp?

  22. wowfood

    Does that mean

    Those who feed the trolls are masochists?

  23. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    so Social Science is a science now? I always thought that was a pun. No, not a pun, what's that thing that sounds the same when you say it backwards?

    This just in: Teenage boys spend so much time having one off the wrist because they like it. There. I'm a social scientist.

  24. roselan
    Linux

    What about masochist trolls?

    minorities even in a minority report.

    You know, the whining, crying & WTFing trolls. An annoying bunch, but at least they find support in LGBT (Linux gnu beers & trolls)

  25. Jes.e

    All these good faq's posted reminded me..

    ..of an oldie but goodie!

    "Dear Emily Postnews"

    http://www.templetons.com/brad/emily.html

    There were some very obnoxious personalities back on Usenet days..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All these good faq's posted reminded me..

      "There were some very obnoxious personalities back on Usenet days.."

      I kind of miss Cody Ann Michaels.

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