The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).
It is hard to underplay the results: 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.
Even more damning was that the finding between trolling and sadism is the strongest:
Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” they wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”
That actually explains so much, especially — in my experience elsewhere — how much glee some commenters get in shredding apart authors, often in the most personal ways imaginable. I would not be surprised, based on the misogyny evidence in most trolling comments, if most of those sadist trolls were also sadistic men.
The other reality, however, is this: Trolls are a small minority not only of Internet commenters, but of the overall online community (most people do not comment at all). It’s a comforting thought, actually, knowing that those who seek to belittle online authors do it for their own sick sense of pleasure because they get an emotional high out of making us question our life’s choices.
It also explains TK — who began as a commenter here — and why he gets so much joy out of seeing all of you suffer (full disclosure: I also find joy in watching TK make you suffer).