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Study by Brigham Young University examines motives, personalities of internet trolls

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Posted at 8:29 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 22:29:53-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A study by researchers at Brigham Young University examined the motives and personality traits of internet "trolls," or people who intentionally try to engage others into antagonizing and disruptive conversation on social media platforms.

Researchers conducted a study with over 400 Reddit users and found that individuals are more likely to demonstrate trolling behaviors when they also show a "dark triad personality traits" including narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy - combined with "schadenfreude," which is a German word meaning to derive pleasure from another's misfortune.

“People who exhibit those traits known as the dark triad are more likely to demonstrate trolling behaviors if they derive enjoyment from passively observing others suffer,” said Dr. Pamela Brubaker, BYU public relations professor and co-author of the study in a release from BYU.

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Researchers say that online trolls often consider their actions to be enriching and a way for dialogue to take place. They often don't see potential hurtful impact of their words.

“They are more concerned with enhancing their own online experience rather than creating a positive online experience for people who do not receive the same type of enjoyment or pleasure from such provocative discussions,” said Brubaker in a release from BYU.

While it doesn't appear that trolling will disappear any time soon, BYU researchers say there's still hope for productive online conversations. They recommend going into online conversations with an open mind in order to understand different perspectives.

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The study found no correlation between being outspoken online and trolling behavior, which suggests that civil online dialogue and discourse is achievable.

BYU communications professor Dr. Scott Church and co-author of the study says remembering the person you are communicating with is a real person is also helpful with online etiquette.

“It helps when we think of others online as humans, people with families and friends like you and me, people who feel deeply and sometimes suffer. When we forget their identities as actual people, seeing them instead as merely usernames or avatars, it becomes easier to engage in trolling," said Church in a release from BYU.