The dark psychology of Internet trolls

There’s an area of forensic (having to do with legal or criminal cases) psychology that is known as “Dark Psychology.” And it just might help us better understand Internet trolls — people who feel the need to use the Internet to victimize and bully others.

Dark Psychology has to do with the study of people who prey on other people. These can be bullies, spouse beaters, thieves or any type of lawbreaker who seeks out victims. These are not people who park illegally, are sex workers, or cheat on their taxes. These people seek out victims for the thrill it gives them to act against them.

Many people who prey on others manifest the Dark Tetrad. The Dark Tetrad is defined as psychopathy, sadism, Machiavellanism and narcissism. And those components are made up of others.

Internet troll via Shutterstock

Internet troll via Shutterstock

What they break down to is a person who enjoys inflicting pain on others, who shows no remorse, who is callous, who is antisocial, enjoys manipulating others to his own ends, who feels quite self-important, has an over-inflated ego, and someone who derives pleasure from hurting someone else either directly or vicariously. He also shows disinhibited, bold behavior, often wanting to call attention to himself and his acts.

This is a rough description of someone who identifies and uses people that he chooses to be his victims. I’m sure that most of us can visualize who these people are. There are some who come to my mind immediately: mass murderers, politicians, businessmen, etc. And several movies also come to mind, where one of the lead characters was almost exactly like this, such as “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.” Though Baby Jane may have had additional psychological issues beyond just the Dark Tetrad.

What does this have to do with Internet trolls?

A recent paper argues that Internet trolls seem to fulfill at least three (some fulfill all) of the Dark Tetrad. And sadism seems to be the overriding component.

The researchers, Buckels, Trapnell and Paulhus, writing in the journal, Personality and Individual Differences, looked at Internet trolls and how they are formed psychologically. Their research, and that of others, shows that sadism is at the forefront. Trolls enjoy hurting people, they get a thrill and positive reinforcement from causing pain to others. Though some sadists tend to prefer causing pain in person and directly observing the results, much like Baby Jane, others seem to enjoy causing pain to others at random. This latter group seems to be the one that the typical Internet troll enjoys.

Let’s take a look at what the typical Internet troll does.

This is based on the above paper, plus some previous work by Buckels, et al., and other researchers. The troll decides to post. He selects a site and a topic. These are often chosen based on his belief system. For example, someone who is strongly religious may troll on atheist sites. Or, sometimes, the troll may strike in a more random manner while reading an blog, for example — some topic or comment may catch his eye and he’ll post.

His objects are to hurt people and attract attention to himself. He may post something wildly inflammatory to the other comments on the site or in direct opposition to the theme of the article. It may be a logically structured and well-written post or just a string of obscenities. Whatever he chooses, he gets some gratification just from posting, knowing that people will be hurt and upset by his post. But he gets more gratification when he gets a reply. Now he knows that someone is upset. This is a victory. Some trolls will then just sit back and watch other comments get posted by readers or authors whom he has enraged. Other trolls, will continue to post, sometimes hundreds of posts on the same thread, to further incite the readers into more replies. The more replies, the more criticisms and denunciations, the more gratification he gets.

Some trolls feel safer carrying out these attacks online, rather than in person. They feel that they are anonymous and relatively safe from being discovered. Had they done bullying like this in person, their identities would be known and they could face physical, psychological, financial and/or legal consequences. Even though they may be tracked and identified through the Internet, that usually isn’t done, so the troll feels invulnerable and continues to post.

The recommendation to decrease trolling is to decrease the gratification that the troll gets. That is, he enjoys stirring up the hornets’ nest. The more sound and fury he generates, the more he enjoys it. Therefore, the best way to limit trolling is to totally ignore the troll. Let him know that he’s not worth replying to, that the readers know him to be trolling and trying to provoke a response.

The less feedback the troll gets, the less likely he is to post to that particular site. After all, why post to Site X, where the troll gets no replies even to the most outrageous comments, when he can post to Site Y and enjoy everyone fighting back?

The lesson here? Please don’t feed the trolls.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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121 Responses to “The dark psychology of Internet trolls”

  1. Guest says:

    “They are hardened, irrational haters.” After reading what you wrote, that describes you to a T, David. You sound intolerant and hateful toward those who do not agree with your beliefs. Don’t forget – what you believe is not defined as fact, it is just that – your belief……your opinion.

  2. harryf200 says:

    One way to combat these people is to be nice to them – very nice. It makes it extremely hard for them to maintain unpleasantness towards someone who is always pleasant to them. But it;a probably easier simply not to feed them! However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a troll and someone who is testing an argument. They can appear troll-like because they always seem to be disagreeing, but they are playing devil’s advocate to see if the idea they are challenging has merit, and if they decide it does then they may accept it. But until then …

  3. neroden says:

    I think it needs to be depicted. People need to realize that they’re dealing with elite sociopaths. It’s the only way to get people to start bringing out the tumbrils.

    Of course, the executive suite at ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox wouldn’t commission such a show.

  4. neroden says:

    Skilled trolls are hard to tell from propagandists, unfortunately, and you have to respond every time to propagandists.

  5. Rrhain says:

    Precisely. You don’t prefer just chicken. To leave out the “or” and what comes after it is to misquote you.

    Let us not play dumb and pretend that your ungrammatical attempt to transcribe a spoken phrase into written English is actually evidence that “or” is equivalent to a period. Your sentence isn’t finished and the use of a period after “chicken” is incorrect. Either get rid of the period or convert it into an ellipsis in order to indicate that the sentence is not finished and is being interrupted.

  6. 4th Turning says:

    Not when used as a noun, as you did, and the subject of your sentence.

  7. TruthNotReligion says:

    I prefer chicken.

    Or fish.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Republicans definitely like womanly curves and a soft disposition…

  9. Anonymous says:

    What really surprises me (but probably shouldn’t) are how many of these people are willing to stalk others. There are a lot of truly crazy people online, especially if they post all day – they’re most likely in the throes of some obsessive mental illness. Ironically a lot of these trolls are more personally offended by anonymous comments than most people. Which probably gives them the illusion that theirs also matter.

    I also know some people who have had their address and phone number put online anonymously. A tip is not to use the same username for everything. Usually people can do a quick search and find everything you’ve posted.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Businesspeople have such a cult of personality in the media. They depict themselves as type A, inspiring, wanting to change the world. They give “success tips” that usually involve being positive and caring to others. In reality, the things that make one succeed are much more sinister. People that succeed in business don’t follow the rules or the friendly bullet-point lists.

  11. Anonymous says:

    That sucks, lynchie. But I have to give him credit for being honest. A lot of these types would not even ask for the $50 up front; they’d just take it.

  12. Rrhain says:

    No, “or” is not the same as a period. It is a coordinating conjunction and indicates that there is an alternative thought that must be included.
    “The choice is between chicken or fish.”

    By your logic, “The choice is between chicken,” is a legitimate quotation “since ‘or’ is just as good as a period.” Clearly, it isn’t since it leaves out the alternative.

    You *do* see the irony in your post, yes?

  13. Rrhain says:

    Nice try but as others have noted, you left out half the quote and thus completely changed the meaning.

    The point was that it doesn’t matter how refined or coarse the statement of a troll is. It’s still trolling.

    Surely you aren’t about to claim that meaning is only derived from the surface, are you? That there is no such thing as context, intent, hyperbole, subtext, etc.? It’s akin to the story often told about Southerners who have practiced the fine art of the cut such that they can insult you most cruelly but phrase it in such a way that it sounds like the sweetest thing anybody has ever said and how could you possibly have thought it was meant any other way, bless your heart?

    You *do* see the irony in your post, yes?

  14. Rrhain says:

    And still you have no argument. Nothing but hypocrisy: Complain about name-calling while doing nothing but.

    Oh, I have no expectations of you ever responding. You didn’t in the first place. Do you have an argument? Where is your justification? Could you expand upon your thesis? Exactly what is it you are trying to say?

    Be specific. “Thinking outside the box” is not an argument. It is an assertion. And in your particular case, it is nothing more than an attempt to claim that you’re so much better than everybody else in a typical ploy of the bully: You’re the one being picked upon, you’re the one who’s oppressed, you’re the only one that has the courage to face reality and say what must be said, etc., etc.

    So prove it. Where is your justification that fighting against trolls is “against the norm”?

    Be specific. Do you have an argument or are you only here to stroke your ego?

  15. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    “Or” is a conjunction. It’s use is to hold two thing together. Putting it at a beginning of a sentence as I did is ungrammatical. However, it could never be used in the manner you suggest.

  16. mclarksn9 says:

    Is it safe to say anyone with an Obama chain email avatar is a troll/racist

  17. Houndentenor says:

    I always found it surreal how removed most people at that level are from what the other 99% of us know as economic reality. And it’s not just the ones who were raised with money either. They are just so detached from what it’s like to get by on stagnant salaries when prices keep going up.

    Of course my favorite regular Monday morning scene was watching execs hold court in front of the admins about what they did over the weekend and then walk away without even the pretense that they had any interest in the lives of the people who worked for them. I’ve never seen what goes on in the executive suites accurately depicted in a movie or tv show. I don’t think anyone would believe it if they did.

  18. 2karmanot says:

    “Being free means tolerating the expression of opinions you don’t personally like, even by trolls.” Next…………………

  19. cole3244 says:

    16 hours and that’s all you could come up with, talk about weak i must be playing with the real minor leagues here.
    if your next post is as weak as this one i reserve the right to not respond so don’t get your feelings hurt or assume i don’t respect your opinion although i don’t.

  20. Joseph S says:

    But, education would tell you that the word “or” in a sentence is just as good as a period. Independent clauses stand on their own. Anyway, my point is that dissent is continually stifled these days. Being free means tolerating the expression of opinions you don’t personally like, even by trolls.

  21. David Riker says:

    I’m a troll. I admit it. But my “victims” are bullies themselves.
    Remember the term “flaming?” Well, I flame a lot of people who, for
    example, spout stubbornly hateful and vicious portrayals of President
    Obama. I flame bigots and climate change deniers. I flame science
    deniers and anti-gay halfwits. These people aren’t dainty, vulnerable
    opinionators. They are hardened, irrational haters. They deserve all the
    ridicule that I pubically dump on their heads. Sometimes, the only
    reply you can give to these people is a good, hard slap on the face. Are
    they sometimes chagrined and offended? GOOD.

  22. David Riker says:

    I’m a troll. I admit it. But my “victims” are bullies themselves. Remember the term “flaming?” Well, I flame a lot of people who, for example, spout stubbornly hateful and vicious portrayals of President Obama. I flame bigots and climate change deniers. I flame science deniers and anti-gay halfwits. These people aren’t dainty, vulnerable opinionators. They are hardened, irrational haters. They deserve all the ridicule that I pubically dump on their heads. Are they sometimes chagrined and offended? GOOD.

  23. ronbo says:

    Einstein, Galileo, Harvey Milk, MLK – all would be considered “trolls” for presenting information that conflicted with the group-think or consensus of the times.

  24. lynchie says:

    At my son’s last job his manager sent a memo to his staff saying that the owner of the company wanted to do something special for his son’s birthday. He asked that everyone contribute $50 and the same would be asked for all employees. This money to pay for the owner and his son to go to the Master’s golf tournament. When I asked what he was going to do he said “Dad I have no choice, I’m paying the $50”. Within a month he had a new job. My current boss is such a sociopath. No empathy, no caring if people are struggling.

  25. Rrhain says:

    Indeed, as you just proved. Do you have an argument, or are you just going to wallow in a pity party of how put upon you are?

    Typical projection: Accuse others of what you are doing and get to it first so that you can proclaim that you’re the one everybody’s picking on.

    Try again.

  26. BillFromDover says:

    Because she is the cure for the 4-hour boner, perhaps?

  27. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Or it could mean leaving sixteen words out of a quotation in order to change the meaning.

    Education doesn’t necessarily preclude being a troll.

  28. Joseph S. says:

    “He may post something… in direct opposition to the theme of the article. It may be a logically structured and well-written post….”
    So, now, being a “troll” can consist of being logical, educated, and expressing a different opinion? WOW.

  29. UncleBucky says:

    Sounds like the examples in “Snakes in Suits”, the book about sociopathic corporate “success stories”…

  30. The_Fixer says:

    I don’t have any suggestions better than those mentioned below, but do want to wish you good luck. Be careful, you never know what kind of an A-hole you may be dealing with.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Being obsessed with targeting anyone is definitely not normal. It goes back to the idea of being “special” (the biggest fan) and wanting to “win” (to gain their attention). It makes them feel chosen and important. And that’s probably why they resort to negative attention, to get the most attention. If you do something truly crazy, that person will have no choice but to stop their life for it. It’s really unfortunate. Remember how a fan committed suicide on Paula Abdul’s lawn – probably to scar her for life.

    Being that negative or obsessive, in general, is self-destructive. You can get arrested for threats. As with many criminals/sick people, they are not rational

  32. The_Fixer says:

    What’s funny about that is that if these people are looking for any kind of attention – positive or negative – they’re choosing the wrong path.

    There are many stories of “super fans” conversing with famous performers directly via twitter. If they really want a relationship of some sort with a famous person, it’s possible to get one in a positive manner. So I don’t think it’s a pursuit solely for the purpose of attention – they can get positive attention if they are a real fan.

    In the end, it likely is a result of some level of mental illness, or perhaps that in combination with jealousy.

    I’ve noticed that the “mean tweets” seem to involve that person’s looks. Very seldom are their abilities brought up – is almost exclusively about something superficial. Which shows the depth of the person sending out the mean tweets,

    There may also be a person or two doing so just so that their mean tweet is read on the air. Again, looking for attention for the wrong reason. While most of us who see this segment look at the sender of the mean tweet as being an idiot, that idiot may get some added satisfaction from having their mean tweet broadcast.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunate reminder never to F with crazy people. They just want to “win.” Online they can post your info, in real life they can “stand their ground.”

  34. 2karmanot says:

    Did you mean type troll?

  35. 2karmanot says:


  36. 4th Turning says:

    Am no shining example but what you are plainly describing is societal immaturity
    and essentially the tantrum behavior of 2 and 3 year olds?
    There is an obvious suicidal trajectory aspect to the picture you’ve painted? I have been very curious about this whole obesity epidemic as it relates to instant gratification and the self-absorption at the other end of this particular spectrum.
    Our culture is over-heated and over-stimulated. I think I can understand common
    folk looking around at all this and grasping at whatever lifeline they conclude or are
    told will get us back on solid ground again-prospects as frightening as their fears.
    The other “over” I’d like your thoughts on is over-population?

    In John B. Calhoun’s early crowding experiments, rats were supplied with everything they needed—except space. The result was population boom, followed by such severe psychological disruption that the animals died off to extinction. The take-home message was that crowding resulted in pathological behavior—in rats and by extension in humans. For those pessimistic about Earth’s “carrying capacity,” the macabre spectacle of this “behavioral sink” was a compelling symbol of the problems awaiting overpopulation. Calhoun’s work enjoyed considerable popular success. But cultural influence can run both ways. In this paper, we look at how the cultural impact of Calhoun’s experiments resulted in a simpli-fied, popular version of his work coming to overshadow the more nuanced and positive message he wanted to spread, and how his professional reputation was affected by this popular “success.”

  37. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, it’s an extreme case. But it shows that some of them will go to violent lengths and use their money to cover it up. Most of them of course are just callous when it comes to inconveniencing others, and irritated when they aren’t #1. I’ve been reading sensationalist news lately and it’s wound me up

  38. 4th Turning says:

    We need the doc to confirm this, but it is my understanding that 1% are psychopaths and
    4% are sociopaths? Which adds up to a lot of our fellow Americans in serious trouble.
    Where have I heard that ‘eliminating this problem’ before… Chilling recollections.

  39. BeccaM says:

    e e cummings gets a pass.

    People who imitate e e cummings are lousy poets.


  40. BeccaM says:

    There are ways to do it privately, especially if you have saved communications from him. If it’s online only and places like Disqus and/or the site where your personal information was posted have not acted to take it down, the next step is to contact an attorney.

    You’d be amazed what an appropriate letter on a law firm’s letterhead can accomplish.

    (…writing as someone who has also experienced being the victim of stalking, both online and off, mostly the latter…)

  41. Houndentenor says:

    I never worked for anyone who was violent. Neither of them were particularly mean. They just didn’t seem to have much empathy or much concern for anyone else’s needs. They were the sort of people who might, completely hypothetically of course, expense their daughter’s boyfriend’s parking garage space to have the company pay for it. Or who might use the company jet to fly out a mistress to meet them for an out of town rendez-vous. Totally hypothetical, of course.

  42. Anonymous says:

    That’s why the discussion runs smoothly versus websites inundated with trolls. The mods aren’t biased and will kick out anyone who’s causing a ruckus, regardless of their views. Thanks mods!

  43. Anonymous says:

    The other day I read an article about a CEO who beat his gf so hard her organs needed to be removed. He’s a multimillionaire. They really would just be in jail if they didn’t have money. That’s why they gain their money, so they can have a buffer against consequences. Lots of them abuse the “little people” and threaten to hurt them if they tell someone.

  44. Houndentenor says:

    Describes both of the CEOs I worked for.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Funny you should say that. They say CEOs have the highest percentage of sociopaths of any job. It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? They see people as numbers and only want personal gain.

  46. lynchie says:

    Pretty well describes the 1%. They have no empathy, never take responsibility for their actions and winning is the big goal that is after they have fixed the game by paying off the regulators and politicians.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I think they just want to gain fame by association. Would someone care if you insulted Joe down the street? Probably not. The Mean Tweets crap just makes people feel like “wow, someone famous had to stop and acknowledge me.” Personally, I think it’s a bunch of bullshit.

  48. cole3244 says:

    sounds reasonable to me.

  49. heimaey says:

    It was from an on-line debate. I didn’t like them using the word faggot and I said it was offensive and then they started telling me to get over it, they didn’t mean it that way. And you know the drill. He called me faggot and threatened me, and posted my information up. I let disqus know but haven’t heard back. I’m trying to find his information because I do want to file a law suit. Does anyone know someone who can help me track him down?

  50. Anonymous says:

    Because she has the rhetoric of a 16 year old who got their computer taken away?

  51. Anonymous says:

    Generally being an individual has been associated with “social discord.” Nevermind that every innovation that made our world worthwhile came from thinking outside the box.
    Change can be good.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately people respond to those who presume a “leader” role even if it’s a bunch of rhetoric. And again, conservatives spring to mind.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Simple, they can’t lie in real life. Online they can claim to be good looking, rich, with positions of power etc. And many are lying. It’s just role playing. I saw a guy starting arguments on a certain website, later resorting to bragging about being in charge of the entire site. Lol. I don’t know if these people are just dumb, pathological liars, under 18? I’m not sure.

  54. Anonymous says:

    Yup, and we’ve seen many of them on here. Also, people that read Ayn Rand, I think she meets the criteria (just joking – or am I?)

  55. Anonymous says:

    I consider generalizations and insults a sign of either a low education or IQ. It shows that either a) they have no awareness of the “gray areas” of arguments, b) they are not intelligent enough to debate without being frustrated, c) they didn’t do any research and have no sensible arguments outside of blanket statements.

  56. BeccaM says:

    Aye… That was one of the most disturbing results, Zimbardo actually coming to believe he was not only getting good science out of the study, but that there was nothing morally or ethically evil about allowing it to continue.

  57. docsterx says:

    Some do commit crimes because of their antisocial personality disorder. A high percentage also are substance abusers – many get an arrest record and some jail time for drug and alcohol abuse. Others have other psychiatric diagnoses as well as APD. A fairly large number also die earlier than expected because of any one of a number of factors.

    Some do respond to psychotherapy and medications but successful treatment is difficult.

  58. Anonymous says:

    Sadly this is actually more common than it seems. Take legal action; their IP address can be easily tracked. A lot of people who post info for professional reasons get targeted, usually for money or out of jealousy

  59. docsterx says:

    In the Stanford study, not only did the guards spontaneously become vicious, but even Zimbardo, who was the warden, fell victim to the effect. One of his grad students had to bring him back to reality and get him to stop the experiment early. It’s really scary when the person who designed the experiment and had an idea of what the results could be, gets sucked up into the psychodrama without even realizing it.

  60. BeccaM says:

    BTW, I think it’s way cool that our AmericaBlog moderators are participating in this discussion of internet trollery. It’s fascinating to hear the take from those who have volunteered to try to keep this place cleaned up.

    I’d love to hear more, even though I know you guys and gals are supposed to remain anonymous.

  61. Steve_in_CNJ says:

    Those numbers can also be comforting. When you construct a civil reply to a troll, or let it have the last word, imagine the throngs of invisible observers who are nodding in agreement with you and scowling at the troll. Sometimes it takes imagination to realize you’ve won without raising your voice.

  62. BeccaM says:

    I know the study well. The ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ actually were separated, in different rooms, with the student feigning groans and eventually screams as increasing voltage was (theoretically) applied for wrong answers.

    Possibly an even more relevant example is the Stanford Prisoner experiment, where all it took was the assigning of Guard vs Prisoner role to begin the cycle of escalating sadism. The dehumanization took place right there, face-to-face, and apparently all it took was putting the one group into a position of assumed authority over another, then removing the societal constraints.

    There, I think the key was people telling themselves it wasn’t real-life, just a silly experiment, it didn’t really matter what they did. Basically, society-imposed self-restraint was artificially removed and all the inner monsters came out to play.

    Thank god they ended that one, although sadly not before damage was done to many of the unwitting participants.

  63. docsterx says:

    He may be a stalker. Or someone who knows you and is upset with you for some reason.

  64. docsterx says:

    There’s a whole area of psychological research on stalkers. Many have some degree of underlying mental illness. Some are frankly psychotic. For some, the anonymity of the internet appears to be very ego-inflating. They become very self-assured and controlling and begin to believe that (pick a Hollywood actor/actress) should listen to them or marry them.

  65. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately sociopaths can never take blame for their actions or realize they did something wrong. They make excuses or point to circumstances. So if something goes wrong in a sociopath’s life, they will try to “win” by any means necessary. Even minor irritations can set them off. It’s unfortunate but at least they go to jail eventually. I wish they weren’t allow conjugal visits though!

  66. Anonymous says:

    At the end of the day trolls bully people with vulnerabilities, not the average person who would read stupid comments, shake their head and move on with life. It’s not real life and you don’t actually know that person. I’m not blaming the victim or anything, but people should ask for help if they are being bullied. Delete your Facebook, Youtube, whatever it is that gives you contact with bullies, and take legal action if needed. I never reveal personal info online because things are permanent on the internet. There is a code of conduct people need to learn to be safe.

  67. perljammer says:

    Being a sociopath is not illegal. However, since they have no empathy whatsoever and because their only real priority is satisfying themselves, they do tend to run afoul of the law sooner or later.

    I agree that it’s like dealing with pedophiles. There isn’t a cure or reliable means of rehabilitation. All you can do is wait for them to violate, then lock them up and keep them out of civilized society.

  68. cole3244 says:

    thinking outside the box whatever box you are in is not readily accepted in today’s environment.

  69. docsterx says:

    When I was reading about this, I thought about the Milgram experiment (researcher directing the volunteer “teacher” shocking the confederate “student” for wrong answers till the student died. It made me think about how many of the teachers might have been sadists and would have shocked without the researcher’s prodding.

    Based on what you presented, I wonder if more shocks would have been delivered the more removed the “teacher” was from the “student” either physically (in another building) or doing the experiment over s a phone line.)

    For those who are unfamiliar with Milgram’s experiment, it’s explained on Wiki. Amazingly, some volunteers continued to shock the victims until they were “dead” because the researcher insisted that they continue.

  70. BeccaM says:

    If you read their Terms of Use agreements, they always include weasel-word statements to the effect that they take no legal responsibility for online interactions

  71. Anonymous says:

    It’s always pretty funny when one of these guys gets caught for their “joking” comments. At the very least, their reputation is ruined. There was a guy who got caught making sexual assault threats to some 14 year old who just asked if people went to her school. He was a college student with a good record, and no one would have suspected otherwise. Joke or not, someone has to discipline these idiots. We can’t write off every threat as a “joke” and this culture is harmful to our society.

  72. Anonymous says:

    I’m amazed at how a site like Youtube doesn’t face liabilities from the unmoderated content on there. They show disturbing things, like people confessing to crimes. And some commenters threaten to track someone down and hurt them. When you have unmoderated content, you abet crimes. We shut down black markets and hate sites, I don’t understand why sites like this are exempt from legal decorum.

  73. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always said that the “customer is always right” mentality came from America and allows people to act selfish and childish with impunity.

    Common sense would dictate that a manager would make a customer yield to authority. But instead we respond to questions like “I broke this, can I get a new one” with a servile “yes” every time.

    Doesn’t really help that the people who are more inclined to seek money & power have narcissistic traits. Money is a good way to get out of consequences as well in our society. Compare CEOs to politicians and you see the same lack of empathy and drunkenness from power.

    But people are waking up, thankfully, and realizing that our society has become suicidal.

  74. Anonymous says:

    1% of the population are sociopaths (APD). That means 3.5 million people in America are sociopaths. That’s what REALLY scares me. What will eliminate this problem? Eugenics? Quarantining? I can’t think of a solution that doesn’t somehow violate human rights. It’s like dealing with pedophiles. The only thing that’s really shocking to me is that more of these people don’t commit crimes.

  75. Elliott says:

    Why does Ann Coulter come to mind?

  76. BeccaM says:

    That’s why I think there are actually additional categories of sadistic bullies.

    We have the vicarious ones who simply enjoy seeing someone else suffer misfortune.

    The direct ones who want their victims to know exactly who is inflicting the suffering.

    And the anonymous direct ones who’d probably be ashamed if their friends or family knew how cruel they were online, but who enjoy it anyway.

    I was involved in sociology studies in the early 1980s, the earliest ones to begin mapping qualities of online interaction versus other forms. The conclusions were fascinating but not totally unexpected. In face-to-face interviews, people tended to be more circumspect and to express what they thought were socially-acceptable viewpoints, to be more ‘moderate’ in nearly every measure. With phone interviews, there was just a smidge more variation from the Likert means and more willingness to be more self-revelatory, and a bit more when we looked at paper responses.

    When we had people take an online survey… wow. On 1 to 7 Likert scales, we received WAY more 1s and 7s than from the other means. People revealed more and were far more willing to express non-mainstream opinions.

    In other words, the further away a person is from actual face-to-face interactions, the more challenging it is to maintain full empathy.

    I think that being able to act through an avatar makes it all even worse, as far as the loss of inhibitions goes. A great many are probably more their ‘true selves’ online than they are in everyday life.

  77. The_Fixer says:

    While I find the “Mean Tweets” segment on Jimmy Kimmel’s show to be funny (mostly because a lot of them are incoherent), I wonder why people go through all of the trouble to stalk a famous figure on twitter.

    I think part of it has to do with the television access to public figures – they feel some right to comment because of that access. To me, it is not much different to doing the same thing with anyone they may meet on the street. They certainly don’t know them, but feel they do because they’ve seen them on television.

  78. ronbo says:

    Many seek consensus/group think rather than accuracy. Which is also why our President is allowed to use drones to assassinate Americans without due process. Move the consensus a degree a week and in a few years you are driving the opposite direction.

  79. The_Fixer says:

    That’s pretty scary and dangerous.

    What’s the motivation? Did it stem from an on-line debate, or some “real-life” situation?

  80. docsterx says:

    I read something on rage a few months ago. The authors had some suggestions why there’s so much anger (and other raw emotions) showing up (i.e. serial killers, stand your ground killers, road rage, etc.). One of the ideas they proposed was that people in the US have become used to immediate gratification. They can get prescriptions filled, get money from an ATM, get groceries, watch TV and movies, text, fax, email, go to a restaurant, etc. 24/7. 50 years ago, most of those things were impossible. Banks, pharmacies, grocery stores, most restaurants had set hours. TV stations stopped broadcasting in the early hours. People had to wait. They learned patience. Now with faxing, emails, computers, 24/7 services of most kinds are offered. When some people can’t get what they want immediately, they react. Or they may bottle up a number of “slights” (the ATM was out of order, the grocery store didn’t have an item they wanted, there was a line at the gas station, the doctor was unavailable) and, at some later date, they may go off. They feel entitled to get what they want immediately. When they cant or don’t they get angry and strike out. Or, they may get depressed and withdraw. Perhaps they’ll use drugs or alcohol. In any case, many people respond in some way to being denied immediate gratification.

    The authors also felt that there were other factors that may be involved: economic pressures (job market, personal finances, overuse of credit and others), political agitation, limited availability of psychiatric services to those who need them and other stressors that can contribute to someone going into a rage and doing something violent.

  81. perljammer says:

    Do poets get an exemption, or was e e cummings a type of troll?

  82. docsterx says:

    One of the papers I read on this subject differentiated between trolls and stalkers. For some reason, the stalkers attach themselves to one, or a few, people and just attack them. They are still trolls to the extent that they do the usual troll behaviors, and they fit the troll psych profile, but they are just drawn to a few people whom they target for abuse.

  83. 4th Turning says:

    I first got interested in this after reading The Sociopath Next Door. Important to keep in mind
    the doc is talking “clinical” here and not noisy debates across the dining room table. Unless
    I overlooked it, he doesn’t use the word/term RUTHLESS which is yet another important
    symptom. The book was written just as blogs/conspiracy websites were getting fired
    up. It goes to some length in describing the initial high fructose smile/surface disposition
    of this neighbor; known entity. The internet has done away with any need whatsoever
    for artful ruse. What you read is what you get. I think it is vitally important to recognize,
    understand, and avoid this personality type. I believe there is no therapeutic fix for it.
    The doc might even be willing expand this timely topic to include the 0 to 60 in 2 seconds
    rage that appears epidemic from where I’m sitting? Concealed carry laws now passed in
    every tea party state. Stay tuned.

  84. docsterx says:

    Thanks. Wasn’t sure how much, if anything, someone could see without registering.

    Makes me think that the direct bullies (playground type) are therefore “braver” since, when they attack, the victim knows who they are. And might defend himself in some manner leaving the bully smarting. While the internet bullies are the more cowardly, trying to hide behind some kind of avatar, pseudonym, etc.

  85. heimaey says:

    I have a troll right now who is posting personal information about me online. My real name, address, etc.

  86. BeccaM says:


    Interesting how they differentiated between active/direct versus vicarious sadism, and how the direct sadists only derived pleasure from the act of inflicting suffering on others.

    (The preview chart is visible w/out registering, but I needed to zoom the page to be able to read the text. Downloading requires registration.)

  87. Silver_Witch says:

    It is more amusing to me that they consider “Republicans-in-drag” a comment that would even affect a liberal…funny still when they call me a liberal – as if it were a dirty word (I guess because to them it is indeed so).

    But the Republicans-in-drag – what the heck does that even mean and how could it be insulting, because clearly we are not anything remotely like republicans…weird eh?

  88. The_Fixer says:

    “Republican in Drag” is an interesting phrase, isn’t it? it’s an interesting choice to make when wanting to use an insulting term.

    Drag performers are ostentatious. Is that what they mean, an ostentatious Republican? I really doubt that.

    Or is it intended to hit right to the heart, being a slam to Dems with what Republicans consider the most repugnant thing that they can think of, being accused of being gay – and using the most stereotypical example that they can dream up? I think this is closer to the reality of it.

    Some terms like that take on a viral life of their own, so we can’t assume that there is a deeper meaning attached to it ever time it’s flung out as an insult. For those who used it early on, one has to wonder if there is a self-hate thing going on. After all, we’ve seen a significant number of Republican guys who seem for all the world like they are self-hating gay guys.

    Yes, there are better terms to get a point across, however insulting they may be. It kind of makes one wonder when they used a charged term like that. “What are you really trying to say?” is what I am tempted to say to those folks,

  89. Silver_Witch says:

    Thank you Mod….Level 4 Troll Masher!!

  90. Houndentenor says:

    There’s a new trend that I find especially odd. There are people who “follow” others on Twitter seemingly for the sole purpose of responding with nasty insults. I’m not talking about occasionally disagreeing with something someone said. This is more along the lines of a far right person following a liberal commentator or politician. And it’s not about debating the ideas. They just post ad hominem attacks. I really don’t understand that at all.

  91. Silver_Witch says:

    Thank Doc…this is a very interesting article…it is funny how these types of Trolls can be so vicious when they reply – it makes my chest tight even and they are no where near me – really. Great article – must make a note – Don’t Feed the Troll!!!

  92. ronbo says:

    Belittling one for “defacing” grammar in a time of texting… really? Only emjayay can say if he/she derived pleasure from his/her personal off-topic attack. That IS the defining element. Unless you read minds now… (“I don’t think so.”)

  93. Moderator4 says:

    Speaking for all of us, we thank you.
    You also must realize that we all have “regular lives,” and we cannot be on here 24-7. We do depend upon commenters to flag inappropriate comments, preferably (or to at least give us a “heads up” in the comment section).
    You should also largely thank John Aravosis, because he chose us, we follow his guidance and preferences, and if we have a question, we ask him.

  94. cole3244 says:

    i see the name callers have to get help when their argument runs out of steam, and i do realize that you are not playing dumb now are you?

  95. Indigo says:

    Sadistic? I don’t think so.

  96. docsterx says:

    Here’s an interesting chart on some previous research on the Dark Tetrad for anyone interested. You may need to register to see it, but registration is free.

  97. Rrhain says:

    Let us not pretend that simply because the specific letters T, R, O, L, L did not escape your keyboard in that order, you didn’t actually call somebody a troll.

    “this opinion seems to me to come from someone who disregards the opposing view especially if it falls outside the norm.”

    That’s calling someone a troll. Please, let us not play dumb.

  98. FLL says:

    Yes, AmericaBlog moderators are fair and effective, which is unusual on the Internet.

  99. BeccaM says:

    If you want to meet an other type of sociopathic troll, go play Eve Online, a space-based MMO.

    Mind, the vast majority of players are actually pretty decent, often helpful, and for the most part are benign or neutral.

    But let’s say you’re in one of the star systems with a few hundred players. There will almost always be 2 or 3 who aren’t interested just in PvP (player vs player) action, but who actively enjoy ruining other people’s days. And as Mark pointed out, it’s not enough for them just to bully and harass other players, you can also see them on local chat bragging about their behavior.

    I refer to it as feeding on negativity.

    Anyway, you’re absolutely right: The top solution is not to feed the trolls. But also a given forum, such as this one, really does need its team of moderators who actively and vigorously go after the trolls who step across the line. What AmericaBlog gets right, other sites such as YouTube, FaceBook and HuffPo don’t.

  100. ronbo says:

    By that definition, wouldn’t emjayay be the troll? (personal off-topic attacks)

  101. cole3244 says:

    i may disagree with someone and express a strong opinion but i never call anyone a troll that imo is the last weapon of a specious argument and is beneath an intelligent discussion.

    those that call names are not worth anyone’s time or effort so you and your compatriot who baited me must be exactly what you are calling me, interesting.

  102. FLL says:

    Thanks for mentioning something that I was thinking but hadn’t put into words. A bizarrely self-important username or avatar is a “first clue” as to which commenters to avoid.

  103. Naja pallida says:

    I’m curious to know how much of that self-importance is rooted entirely in anonymity. They’re free to act out on their inferiority complex online, because they have no accountability. Nobody walks around calling themselves “Superior Mind” in real life, because they would be mercilessly mocked. But for some reason, we just accept it online and oft try to engage them as any other avatar we come across. When, as you say, we should be taking that as the first clue as to someone who should not be taken seriously.

  104. FLL says:

    True. But a better choice of words would be “in disguise” or something. “Republicans in disguise” or the even more popular “DINO,” “Democrats in name only.” Something along those lines would be less apt to be misinterpreted. I’m pretty sure most readers would interpret “Republicans in drag” as meaning “just a bunch of sissy men with Republican ideas.”

  105. nicho says:

    Exactly, they would never make the same comments in person.

  106. nicho says:

    Why do you assume that “drag” refers to effeminate men. It can also refer to any dressing to assume a different persona. A woman dressing as a man. Sort of like Victor Victoria. Or an urban accountant dressing like a cowboy.

  107. FLL says:

    Concerning inflammatory language, I have often been bemused by the frequent use of the name-calling term for Democrats: “Republicans in drag.” This is just a treasure chest of psychological information. Does the commenter despise effeminate men? Did the commenter’s parents give him a hard time during his childhood for being effeminate and then internalized that? What’s going on with that? I only mention this because the writer of this post, Dr. Mark Thoma, specifically talks about the psychology involved, so I think my comment is on-topic. What is your take on the odd repetition of the “Republicans-in-drag” meme. Is it psychological, Fixer? What say you?

  108. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    I’ve done trollish things, hon. I’ll admit that right now. I’ve said insulting things with the deliberate intention of needling someone and provoking them to make an angry response. That is why your remark was trollish. Properly speaking, being a troll isn’t about calling names or hurling insults; it’s about baiting someone into losing their temper. That’s where the term “troll” comes from: “trolling” is a form of fishing where you dangle bait off a line and pull it through the water, hoping for a fish to bite.

    Boasting about how you were hoping to “rattle your cage” is pure trolling. There’s nothing in that remark other than a hope that you’ll piss emjayjay off enough to respond to it.

    And, yeah, I’ve done it myself and will probably continue to do it whenever I’m angry or depressed or otherwise in a state of mind not to think about the consequences of my behavior. I’m not proud of it, though. You, on the other hand, don’t seem much to care.

  109. Bill_Perdue says:

    While you accurately list some of the attributes of trolls, I think the role of trolls is just as important.

    On political blogs, left and right wing, the role of trolls is to continuously deflect the discussion at hand away from politics and towards personal attacks. That’s usually a function of the political inadequacy of the trolls.

  110. The_Fixer says:

    One of the more obvious troll techniques is to use inflammatory language that is

    just this side of the line. We’ve seen such things as “liberal” and “Obamabot” being used here used in various contexts. When a commenter challenges them and uses the same type of language in response, the troll immediately dismisses them as having nothing to say because the respondent has “resorted to name calling.”

    I have engaged a few trolls in a calm, collected manner devoid of any name-calling. The results have been interesting, In one exchange regarding flat-rate income taxes, the end result was that he had nothing of substance to say. His final salvo was “flat taxes are fair because everyone pays the same rate.” He completely ignored any logic disproving his assertion. In the end, I told him that there was nothing more to say to him because he had not proved his point with evidence.

    I had another guy who occasionally pops up here from Bloomville who fits the troll profile perfectly in that he thinks a great deal of himself. He castigated others for insulting him, but when it was clear that he was running out of ideas, he insulted me. I used my usual technique of sticking to the facts and debating him, but like all trolls, it did nothing in the end. I told him to go away as he was not worth debating,

    The lesson that I get out of this is to not feed the more skillful trolls in the way that they expect, rather, actually debate them with facts. Make them prove their assertions with factual sources (they can’t). In the end, they will wind up going away out of frustrations.

    The one who simply call people names and insult them while not even trying to make a point – yeah, ignore them.

  111. Indigo says:

    Wow! We get to witness a flame war over troll behavior with troll behavior. Somehow, that’s oddly on topic but off topic at the same time. I appreciated Dr. Mark’s comments because the fact of trolls is a disturbance in the Force, so to speak. The occasional grammatical error is a part of our existence, that’s not a problem, but willfull defacement of the English language is not even good satire. Cruel commentary doesn’t usually make much of a point anyhow. We all dip into our snark tank from time to time to make a point or even score one (in our imagination, at least) . . . why not?, but that’s not quite the same thing as a sadistic and anonymous attack.

  112. cole3244 says:

    so someone that calls another an insulting name is not a (you fill in the blank) , you are an example of a fine human being, right!

    my from my experience its those that call others trolls that should look in the mirror before accusing, as they say it takes one to know one.

  113. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    …(new word that should rattle your cage a little)…

    I’m not saying that you deserve the “troll treatment” but that was definitely a trollish remark.

  114. cole3244 says:

    i am sorry, would bigger fonts and larger spacing help you out any.

    suggestions will be treated in the order they come in, no jumpsies, (new word that should rattle your cage a little).

  115. emjayay says:

    Anyone so self-important that they think they are exempt from the rules of sentence capitalization and punctuation is indeed a type of troll.

  116. cole3244 says:

    that is quite a generalization but i will defer to someone who has seen all there is to see, my bad.

  117. FLL says:

    One characteristic of trolls that you mention:

    “[someone] who feels quite self-important, has an over-inflated ego…”

    This often manifests itself in the person’s username and/or words on the person’s avatar. Some examples are: “Truth_Teller,” “I_Am_God,” “Superior_Mind,” “Übermensch,” ad nauseum. Don’t feed the troll by addressing the actual content of their comment, but please encourage them to change their username and/or avatar. That, in itself, will embarrass them.

  118. Moderator3 says:

    You need to see the things that are removed from your sight. They’re nothing more than name calling without a thing to say about the topic at hand.

  119. cole3244 says:

    sometimes thinking outside the box and stirring up a hornets nest is a good thing not a bad thing.

    its also a way the 99% can voice their opinion without the overpowering influence of the 1% and their monetary advantage.

    this opinion seems to me to come from someone who disregards the opposing view especially if it falls outside the norm. can discussing a subject no matter how volatile be any worse than some disputes that eventually lead to violence, certainly not.

    just my opinion what do you think do i get the troll treatment?

  120. Dave of the Jungle says:

    They’re cowards.

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