What on Earth is Wrong with Internet Trolls? A New Psychological Study Explains

In a recent study, a group of Canadian psychologists have dug down to the root cause of Internet trolls’ behaviour. Are they having a bad day? Do they simply lack grace? Did their mothers never love them?

No: it turns out that the Internet’s greatest villains are good old fashioned “everyday” psychotic Machiavellian sadists.

The paper, which combined two separate studies, tested subjects against the “Dark Tetrad” of antisocial behaviours: psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and sadism. The subjects were then asked questions about their online behaviour, such as “do you comment on YouTube?” (nudge nudge, wink wink). Subjects were also asked if they enjoy playing villains in video games and torturing other characters.

“Much like the Joker, trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘hot-button issues’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner,” wrote the researchers from the University of Manitoba, University of British Columbia and University of Winnipeg.

(ORLY? Is that what the Joker does? Because i thought the Joker poisons rivers to genetically engineer fish to look like him and then he attempts to copyright the fish and then when he finds out do that because you can’t copyright a natural resource he kills the copyright clerk. But they’re right—i suppose Internet trolls are sort of like the Joker.)

The study makes it clear that the “trolls” they profile are separate beasts from the more innocuous Internet users who merely enjoy using online chat and debating various topics. Trolling, as the study defines it, is “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet” just to get your sadistic jollies. Sadistic personality disorder is no longer included in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but is alive and well on the Internet.

The hope is that the study can be used to inform commenting policy at sites like YouTube, where users are allowed to comment anonymously, and viciously.