New research at BYU has uncovered a startling truth about social media trolls. In fact, you could say they pulled back a rock and found more than some unpleasant fungus.
The research involved a survey of 400 users on Reddit. The findings were published in a journal called Social Media and Society by professors Dr. Pamela Brubaker and Dr. Scott Church.
Social media trolls started invading Twitter and other platforms quite a few years ago. We were all happily sharing our dinner recipes and baby photos with each other, letting friends know about our whereabouts, and posting a link to an article here and there. Suddenly, about five or six years ago, there was a shift. What was a relatively safe exchange of information became a constant and unending fistfight, an onslaught that continues to this day.
A troll is not a green monster and may or may not live in their mom’s basement, but BYU did discover that the Dark Triad personality is highly prevalent with this motley crew. In case you haven’t heard of the personality before, it’s a trifecta of psychopathy.
First, there’s a tendency toward narcissism — and not the everyday self-obsessed kind that involves checking your own social media feed for likes and shares. This is the psychological definition that involves an almost total lack of empathy toward others and grandiose thoughts. A narcissist is almost entirely incapable of seeing someone else’s point of view on any topic.
Second, the triad involves Machiavellianism, which is more widely understood as social engineering, coercion, and manipulation. To be Machiavellian means you have a tendency to lead people astray and to cause disruption as a way to gain power over them.
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The third part of the Dark Triad is psychopathic behavior. Trolls tend to be anti-social and drawn to what psychologists call schadenfreude (meaning, pleasure from the misfortune of others). They want to shake your cage and then run away like no one cares.
It starts to make sense if you have been the victim of online abuse.
You’ll start to see Dark Triad personality traits emerge. A troll is amoral and doesn’t have any interest in the welfare of others. They lack cognitive empathy: a troll doesn’t care how their comments and posts are perceived or if they cause emotional damage; in fact, what trolls care about most is the carnage and chaos that ensues.
If there’s an argument, abject finger-pointing, hurt feelings, and more vicious attacks, the troll has succeeded. The Dark Triad personality is interested in anarchy at the expense of others, and they want to fuel social disruption.
It helps to understand this personality trait because, for many years now, I’ve wondered what type of person is behind the keyboard when they type death threats and hurl abuses.
Long ago, I decided not to “feed the trolls” and try to combat this behavior, and seeing this new research helps because none of us will get anywhere with those who have the Dark Triad personality. What I used to picture as an isolated individual making a cry for help is actually more likely an actual psychopath who feeds on anger and abuse.
For me, it explains how ignoring trolls is the only recourse.
That and maybe a little deplatforming.