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Narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic.
June 11, 2014 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Personality Psychology Proves It: Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People.
posted by shivohum (72 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Most people are horrible people. c.f.
posted by sciurus at 6:14 AM on June 11


Most people are horrible people.

Not at all. A lot of people are just scared and angry as they merely lash out, trying to control *something* in their nightmarish lives. The results are ugly and hurtful, but when push comes to shove, I have seen some very angry and bitter people put down their defences and do wonderful things.

It all comes down to emotional literacy and understanding what you are really feeling why, but until we allow ourselves to be able to feel and not use over-thinking to compensate for those bottled-up feelings, we will keep doing things that are beneath us...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:23 AM on June 11 [35 favorites]


What about newspaper and magazine columnists? The last few days of Washington Post and Slate articles have reaffirmed my feeling that we just didn't have an easy word for what they do, but now that we have "troll" and "griefer", George Will becomes something we can categorize.
posted by straw at 6:23 AM on June 11 [11 favorites]


don't worry everyone the personality psychologists are here
posted by rebent at 6:26 AM on June 11 [32 favorites]


Double? I remember this article from when it first came out in February, but I can't find it easily in a MeFi search.
posted by Curious Artificer at 6:29 AM on June 11


"Oh, you like to troll? Please fill out this survey that will show if you are a terrible person!"

I see absolutely no reason that these findings might be invalid
posted by rebent at 6:29 AM on June 11 [20 favorites]


Most people are horrible people. c.f.

Trenneman, R. (2006). People: What a bunch of bastards. Psychology of Denholm Industries.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:40 AM on June 11 [12 favorites]


I don't believe there are horrible people. There are people who do horrible things, but then we're all capable of horrible things. THEY are like THIS is never that helpful in understanding what motivates people, and how to help them change (if they want to).

Double? I remember this article from when it first came out in February, but I can't find it easily in a MeFi search.

I thought that too but I couldn't find it either.
posted by billiebee at 6:42 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Some weeks back I met weev at a social event. The whole time I'm thinking about how there's enough people on Metafilter who want this guy forcibly thrown in a cage.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:46 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


What gets me about personality psychologists is that they have a tendency to look at personality measures as reflecting a person's singular "essence," completely ignoring the contextual and performative nature of behaviour. Online trolling is a special beast because, like sciurus pointed out, it occurs in a social context wherein the individual is anonymous and has an audience. Being a troll is also a "social role" that some people play as a form of entertainment, and trolling often occurs in combative video game worlds where it "makes sense". For example,

I Met A Video Game Troll In Real Life And He Really Pissed Me Off
Maybe, I realized, not all trolling is bad. It has rotten roots, sure, but it can lead to good outcomes in certain games. Case in point: I was still frustrated, but EVE Online is strange. You could argue that some of its best moments—massive battles, complex corporate heists, tales of years-long subterfuge—have essentially been the result of large-scale trolling. Moment-to-moment, EVE is about languidly steering a ship through space's nigh-incomprehensible black, but the real meat of it is human interaction. Sometimes that leads to manipulation and betrayal. It's the nature of the beast, and I don't think EVE would be even remotely good without it.
I think what is especially difficult is that "trolling" is an extremely ambiguous concept, and one that is often conflated with "harassment". But, in my opinion, it's an altogether different kind of behaviour.
posted by tybeet at 6:50 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


The lede is buried.

"What’s more, it also found a relationship between [Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism] and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet."

Uh oh.
posted by 256 at 6:56 AM on June 11 [50 favorites]


Hey, sending people to shock websites for the lulz is not trolling! That's good old-fashioned fun!
posted by Mister_A at 7:04 AM on June 11


I was reading an interesting article in Wired magazine and it said that the online game League of Legends hired some psychologists to study their worst troll players and trolling incidents and they found that:

"...if you think most online abuse is hurled by a small group of maladapted trolls, you’re wrong. Riot found that persistently negative players were only responsible for roughly 13 percent of the game’s bad behavior. The other 87 percent was coming from players whose presence, most of the time, seemed to be generally inoffensive or even positive. These gamers were lashing out only occasionally, in isolated incidents—but their outbursts often snowballed through the community. Banning the worst trolls wouldn’t be enough to clean up League of Legends, Riot’s player behavior team realized. Nothing less than community-wide reforms could succeed.
"

Their reforms included auto-disabling the "chat while playing" option (barrier to entry; you have to manually turn it on), limiting the number of messages a person could send while playing (so they 'spend' comments on instructing their teammates vs. insulting others) and setting up a Tribunal whereby banned people were clearly explained why they were being banned and how they could change.

And of course the flag system to allow for player-sourced moderation as well. :)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:06 AM on June 11 [11 favorites]


Not a double (afaikt), but Erin Buckels's work has been linked to a couple times in related discussions.

Previously and previouslier.
posted by bonehead at 7:08 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I was able to download the (full?) paper here. Look on the right sidebar under "View," then click download for the PDF once you get the view popup .

One thing I note right away (though I'm not trying to argue the premise or results, necessarily), is this: "We recruited 418 participants (42.4% female; M age = 29.2%, SD= 11.0) from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website (http://www.mturk.com) to complete survey questions online. The sample was restricted to respondents from the United States. The key questions regarding trolling and other online behaviors were embedded in a larger battery of personality questionnaires. Participants received monetary compensation ($0.50) for their time."

So, I would say that their research addresses a certain segment of trollish users, but many may be surprised at the number of troll or troll-like or sometime-troll types who are fully adult, quite successful and financially well off IRL.
posted by taz at 7:12 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Hey, sending people to shock websites for the lulz is not trolling! That's good old-fashioned fun!

Kind of inclined to agree.

Voyeurism, maybe. But not trolling. (and 'voyeurism' is not necessarily exclusive with 'good clean fun.' depends on what we do with it...)
posted by lodurr at 7:14 AM on June 11


And I will bet you that Machiavellian, psychopathic and sadistic trolls are most probably anonymous--at least with George Will I know who and what he is--i do not care for his opinions anymore because he is not anonymous but at least i can focus my distaste and foolishly believe I might have a tiny/tiny bit of impact on the publication of his views
posted by rmhsinc at 7:15 AM on June 11


yeh, if they're recruiting mechanical turk users, they're not exactly getting alpha-trolls.
posted by lodurr at 7:15 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Trolling doesn't really mean anything, though. I mean, maybe we can just acknowledge that people are different kinds of jerks in real life, and they don't all become some single, discrete type of jerk just when they're on the internet.

There are schoolyard style bullies, there are annoying and persistent ideologues and contrarians and people with axes to grind, and there are malevolent creepers who get off on terrorizing people, and they're all motivated by different things. Just like in real life.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:19 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I think what is especially difficult is that "trolling" is an extremely ambiguous concept

It's overly broad. It's like describing your emotional state as "upset"; it could mean any number of things. Hiding in an online game to kill other players is different from hurling abusive language at women, is different from posting devil's advocate comments on a news article, etc. I'd be interested to see if traits vary across different trolling behaviors, and how.

That said, I agree with you about these personality traits being contextual. Most of us have known someone who is horrible online—arrogant and snarky, if not outright bad-faith—yet who, in real life, wears a smile and would give a stranger the shirt off his back. The two are separate. From a psychological perspective I'm sure it's fascinating to explore how they coexist and interrelate, but the dude's real-life friends don't care what he posts online and his online acquaintances aren't mollified to know he's only a jerk to them.
posted by cribcage at 7:23 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Yeah hiding in an online game to kill other players is not trolling, it's EVE.
posted by Mister_A at 7:27 AM on June 11


The whole time I'm thinking about how there's enough people on Metafilter who want this guy forcibly thrown in a cage.

You work hard, you try to piss off everyone you can, and whaddya get? A mob that wants you in a cage. People, eh!?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:29 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Or playing sniper in TF2
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:30 AM on June 11


"Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People."

And this just in....."Water Is Wet!".
posted by TDavis at 7:32 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


The whole time I'm thinking about how there's enough people on Metafilter who want this guy forcibly thrown in a cage.

Eh, politely escorted into a secure Faraday cage would be good enough for me. No throwing needed.
posted by kmz at 7:32 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


What if you only troll awful, entitled, Machiavellian, narcissistic people?
posted by naju at 7:33 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


"The Dark Tetrad" is absolutely going to be the name of my new motor yacht.
posted by rongorongo at 7:33 AM on June 11 [5 favorites]


#notalltrolls
posted by DigDoug at 7:41 AM on June 11 [8 favorites]


*Looks up in the sky, notices that no one has lit the theological anthropology beacon, blathers on anyway*

Our brother John Calvin assures us that the ten commandments exist not only to order our lives but also to demonstrate the truth of James 2:10 - "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."

The Decalogue prohibits different categories of crime - some quite heinous, like murder and adultery - others more nuanced, like honoring your parents and abstaining from covetousness. It's nearly impossible to go a single day without coveting and so each day we find ourselves in violation of all ten laws.

Original Sin is, therefore, a great theological device for demonstrating the equality of all humankind. There are no "monsters" and "heroes." Every single person is equally monstrous. While we rightfully recoil at this notion, it's almost impossible to flip it on its head. If we are "equally blessed" or "originally blessed" we are left with the problem of evil. We might discern from some group's behavior that some are "more blessed" or "more pure" than others. Here be dragons, as this is the sort of reasoning that leads to ethnic cleansing.

All people have within them the daily capacity to be trolls. It's part of our shared human heritage. Trolls aren't deviant outliers, they're just regular people operating at a very basic level - absent the filters and ethics of polite society. It's restraint that the trolls are wanting for. The sort of restraint that our wonderful moderators provide in good measure. All things in moderation, after all.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:41 AM on June 11 [9 favorites]


The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.

That goes a long way towards explaining the comments section of my local newspaper (and many others, I bet).
posted by TedW at 7:51 AM on June 11


Most of us have known someone who is horrible online—arrogant and snarky, if not outright bad-faith—yet who, in real life, wears a smile and would give a stranger the shirt off his back. The two are separate.

Eh, not my experience. My experience is that people who are genuinely jerks online are pretty much genuinely jerks IRL. With notable exceptions (sounds like EVE woudl be one) where the in-game experience requires dickishness. But community exceptions don't really apply, AFAIC: if the community is dickish, and you stay there, it's probably because you're a dick.

also, generalizing from one area of behavior to another has long been recognized as sound dating advice...
posted by lodurr at 7:54 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


My experience is that people who are genuinely jerks online are pretty much genuinely jerks IRL.

I don't know. I could imagine the anonymity of being online maybe frees up some darker part of the psyche that gets kept on a leash irl. In general I like the Robert Anton Wilson thing of trying to get rid of the "is", the labelling of people in a definitive way. "He is an asshole" is one statement. "He appears like an asshole to me" is a different one.
posted by billiebee at 8:03 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


#NotAllTrolls

DigDoug beat me to it, except for the cAmeLcAps. But the fact remans that some of us are perfectly nice individuals who just happen to live under bridges in die Schwarzwald.
posted by jfuller at 8:12 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I don't believe there are horrible people. There are people who do horrible things, but then we're all capable of horrible things. THEY are like THIS is never that helpful in understanding what motivates people, and how to help them change (if they want to).

I think this oversimplifies. There's a difference between people that do horrible things because they are desperate, people that do horrible things because of their social context, and people that do horrible things because they seriously don't give a shit and kinda felt like it at the time.
posted by Jpfed at 8:14 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


"The Dark Tetrad" is absolutely going to be the name of my new motor yacht.


Oh, you're naming it after my Satanic psychedelic metal band. I'm honored!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:18 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Did you guys check out that chart? Apparently online debaters are higher on the scale than chatters or lurkers....

so..... I'm gonna log out now...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:20 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I agree Jpfed. Context is everything. I'm just saying that we all have the capability to do horrible things depending on how we feel or what circumstances we find ourselves in. Saying "these people are horrible" implies some kind of innate quality and allows people to ignore their own darker sides.
posted by billiebee at 8:20 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


What gets me about personality psychologists is that they have a tendency to look at personality measures as reflecting a person's singular "essence," completely ignoring the contextual and performative nature of behaviour.

Eh, you're just hanging out with the wrong psychologists then. Walter Mischel is probably more your jam.
posted by Jpfed at 8:20 AM on June 11


"He is an asshole" is one statement. "He appears like an asshole to me" is a different one.

There's a distinction to be made, but I don't think that's it. Everyone has different personalities. Bob will behave differently depending whether he's sitting at Thanksgiving with his family, or knocking back beers with his buddies at the neighborhood bar, or sitting in an office meeting with his bosses. Maybe unless you're Bob's psychologist or priest, I think it's futile to pursue some definition of who Bob really is. You care about the personality Bob displays in contexts that are relevant to you.

It drives me nuts in MetaTalk when someone who is a blatant and unapologetic dick on the site will get rallied around by a group of (usually NY) MeFites who hang with the person at meetups and insist, "Chill out, I've met him and he's cool." Who cares what a person is like offline, if your only interaction with him is online? Why should Bob's wife care that he's a model employee at the office and never badmouths her at the bar, if he's constantly degrading her at the dinner table?

It's not about implying some assessment of wholeness as a person. It's about the particular personality that person delivers to you.
posted by cribcage at 8:26 AM on June 11 [16 favorites]


What kind of misanthropic fucking derail is it to say, right off the bat, that "most people are horrible"???

I am not a troll, and neither are any of the people in this thread. Trolls are outliers. The article is attempting to explain why.

Penny Arcade is great and all, but a web comic is not going to provide the same depth of conversation as the OP's link.

Good job!
posted by KokuRyu at 8:28 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


"What’s more, it also found a relationship between [Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism] and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet."

Uh oh.


Machiavelli and the Marquis de Sade must have been online constantly.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:28 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


What the fuck is "Machiavellianism"? Is that in the DSM-V?
posted by corb at 8:41 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


cribcage I kind of think we're saying the same thing? Someone might appear like an asshole to me, and yes - if that's the only side of them I see then that's the part I'll be interacting with. I'm just reacting against the "horrible people" part - maybe they're only horrible some of the time. You don't have to excuse the horribleness (that's a word, right?) but that's not to say their personality is totally one-dimensional.
posted by billiebee at 8:43 AM on June 11


I agree Jpfed. Context is everything. I'm just saying that we all have the capability to do horrible things depending on how we feel or what circumstances we find ourselves in. Saying "these people are horrible" implies some kind of innate quality and allows people to ignore their own darker sides.

I think I wasn't clear. There really are horrible people. Also, we all can do horrible things. These are not mutually exclusive. There are times or contexts when you might be driven to do something awful, and there are people that never develop a conscience. Both true.

The fact that some people ignore the potential for evil inside themselves because they think that only psychopaths do horrible things is not a reason to ignore the existence of psychopaths.
posted by Jpfed at 8:44 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


What if you only troll awful, entitled, Machiavellian, narcissistic people?

I know I'm gonna sound about a hundred years old right now, but that used to be what trolling was. It was riling up arrogant, reactionary know it alls who would attack people for really minor reasons, and see just how absurdly far they'd go in attacking you for just being wrong. The best targets were always people who honestly believed they were smarter than everyone else based on their beliefs that everyone else was implausibly stupid, and who felt a need to viciously attack people for that perceived stupidity.

The point, at least by that definition, was to make virulent assholes look ridiculous.

I get that the meanings of words change over time, but if the meaning's going to change, it would at least be nice if there actually was a new meaning instead of just being a catchall term for everyone the speaker is mad at.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:51 AM on June 11 [19 favorites]


The fact that some people ignore the potential for evil inside themselves because they think that only psychopaths do horrible things is not a reason to ignore the existence of psychopaths.

The maybe the difference is that I guess I'd call a psychopath a "person with a classified mental health issue" rather than a "horrible person".
posted by billiebee at 8:55 AM on June 11


What the fuck is "Machiavellianism"? Is that in the DSM-V?

I caught a touch of the Machi at a convention last fall; Doctor prescribed 25mg of Sonder daily, cleared right up.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:57 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


How do we know the trolls' responses weren't just a trolling attempt?
NB: This is a weak attempt to troll.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:58 AM on June 11


Stick a feather in 'em and call 'em macaroni....

Many boards, games, and social sites have the type of people described in this article. Call them what you will (or attempt to dress up behavior in various terms/language/jargon).

Gist: Psychology is a social science. Attempting to link behaviors in specific milieus to general DSM-like aber-rant (ha, pun intended) diagnoses is...I dunno; but it plunks my magic twanger, Froggy.
posted by CrowGoat at 8:59 AM on June 11


The whole time I'm thinking about how there's enough people on Metafilter who want this guy forcibly thrown in a cage.

Not even a moment to think about Kathy Sierra then? Fascinating insight.
posted by gladly at 9:11 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


In the future, could people put a "(Slate article)" note on posts like this. It'll save me the time I spend hovering over the link. Thanks.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:17 AM on June 11 [7 favorites]


Parts of this seem meant to slyly insinuate the idea that engaging in any kind of online discussion that isn't just inoffensive chatter may make you a bad person. I don't like those parts. The other parts--well, aren't they kind of obvious?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:04 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


trolling, is actually good
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:18 AM on June 11


Sometimes, though, its bad

featuring a good tweet by Metafilter's own aedison!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:23 AM on June 11


I'm sure those two things are correlated with being a 15-19 year old boy on the internet.
posted by jjmoney at 10:28 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


"What’s more, it also found a relationship between [Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism] and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet."

brb checking infodump for most prolific commenters
posted by elizardbits at 10:32 AM on June 11


Nah, we could be spreading around so you don't know we're dicks.
posted by lodurr at 10:52 AM on June 11


What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.

Bummer, man.

Okay, cold turkey time. It's been fun, guys and gals.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:23 AM on June 11


On the internet no one, everyone can tell you're a dick.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:27 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


So a categorization of trolling is in order:
- trolls who purposely egg on people who are easily angered or flustered (wheedling trolls)
- trolls who just say nasty hateful shit (asshole trolls)
- trolls who bully teenagers online (devil trolls)
- trolls who are people who just disagree with you, but in a snarky way (everyone else?)
- what do you mean, this website is great! (you're the troll)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:29 AM on June 11


That goes a long way towards explaining the comments section of my local newspaper (and many others, I bet).

And why is this, why are local newspaper comment sections the bottom of the internet? I never got this. Is this just the local trolls trying to roil the local readers - "big in my hometown" and all that?
posted by kgasmart at 11:45 AM on June 11


Man, the bicycle advocacy trolls in my city are so right, for the wrong reasons.
posted by anthill at 12:43 PM on June 11


Social science research is turning into buzzfeed.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:09 PM on June 11


brb checking infodump for most prolific commenters

You might want to sit down first.
posted by cribcage at 1:58 PM on June 11


brb checking infodump for most prolific commenters

You might want to sit down first.


Just a sinister Machiavellian Pyschopath with great suits and a love of fine dining whAt
posted by The Whelk at 3:24 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


NOT ALL TROLLS
posted by ShawnStruck at 3:34 PM on June 11


You might want to sit down first.

I appreciate your determination to get a swipe in but I'm not even in the top 30, bro.
posted by elizardbits at 4:10 PM on June 11


Just a sinister Machiavellian Pyschopath with great suits and a love of fine dining whAt

Is that you, Hannibal?
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:01 PM on June 11


I have a friend who in person is the nicest guy in the world, always ready to help friends, family and near strangers with time and a few bucks if they need it. Online though he is a complete and total asshole.

He has a dozen web proxies set up to revisit forums that have banned his IP. He's figured out how to grief, crash and teamkill in numerous popular online games and routinely buys new copies of them six at a time, installing new ones as his serial numbers get banned by game admins. I'm sure he does worse and simply hasn't told me as he knows I don't approve of his antics.

He has no reason to do any of this - he's good-looking, has plenty of friends, is successful and has a great girlfriend. He loves his trolling, though. It's the strangest thing.
posted by Blue Meanie at 7:37 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


This is the kind of thing I have a hard time buying, Blue Meanie. I find it difficult to believe someone can that cleanly bifurcate their personalities -- and if they could, I'd be suspicious of them for it.
posted by lodurr at 7:46 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who in person is the nicest guy in the world, always ready to help friends, family and near strangers with time and a few bucks if they need it.

Doing good and doing evil are independent. You can be any combination of good and evil. Sorry, D&D fans.
posted by Jpfed at 9:39 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


In particular, I wish we'd stop calling harassment 'trolling'. I'm okay with the meaning of trolling having both the positive connotations of making self-righteous assholes look like idiots and the negative connotations of derailing positive conversations or harming constructive discourse, as I think the same impulse can drive both of those.

But if you start with the name calling, the rape and death threats, and the other attempts to push an individual to shut up and go away in fear, I think you've gone into a new realm.

Now the problem is that a lot of people who've never experienced harassment think of it as the construction guys whistling at a girl in short shorts ... once. So they don't really take the word seriously. I wish we had a better word. Privileged verbal assault?
posted by freyley at 12:50 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


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