Social media may have started as a way to connect friends and make new ones but over the years it has also transformed into a place where people can say anything to anyone and go on with their lives without facing any punitive action. The army of trolls is omnipresent on social media whose sole job is to counter any opinion or dissenting view that may seem to harm their beliefs. Now, a study has revealed the motivating factors that drive internet trolls to do what they think is their full-time job.
Researchers at Brigham Young University published a paper in the Journal of Social Media and Society shedding light on the motives and personality characteristics of internet trolls. For their study, the group of researchers ran an online survey on 400 Reddit users. Concluding the survey results, the researchers found that most of the trolls exhibited dark triad personality traits which include narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, combined with schadenfreude which is a German word for those who derive pleasure from another’s misfortune. People with these behavioural traits were most likely to be online trolls.
The study mentioned that it is important to note that people with schadenfreude often consider trolling to be a form of communication that enriches rather than hampers online deliberation, and because of this belief they are ignorant of how their words or actions affect those on the receiving end of their comments. For people with such personality traits trolling is not considered as something destructive but a means for dialogue to take place, mentions the research.
The study was co-authored by Pamela Brubaker, BYU public relations professor, Scott Church, BYU communications professor, and former BYU graduate Daniel Montez. In the online survey conducted for the study, the researchers also found that those who experienced pleasure from the failures or shortcomings of others considered trolling to be acceptable online behaviour, while women who participated in the survey believe trolling as “dysfunctional” and men were more likely to view it as “functional.”
In a statement, Brubaker said that trolls are more concerned with enhancing their own online experience rather than creating a positive online experience for everyone who does not derive the same type of pleasure from such provocative discussions. However, the study also mentioned that there is no correlation between being outspoken online and trolling behaviour. A user can be active in discussing various topics online without being a troll. This means that healthy conversations can take place on digital platforms without harming anybody’s experience on the medium.