As social media and other online networking sites have grown in usage, so too has trolling. New research from Brigham Young University published in the journal of Social Media and Society identifies motives and personality characteristics of internet trolls.
Individuals who experienced pleasure from the failures or shortcomings of others considered trolling to be acceptable online behavior. Women who participated in the survey viewed trolling as dysfunctional while men were more likely to view it as functional.
The study found no connection between being outspoken online and trolling behavior. The findings noted that users who voice their opinions online don’t always engage in trolling behaviors. Such results are encouraging and suggest that civil online discourse is attainable. Several industry experts who are active on social media or manage online communities shared their thoughts on the findings of the study.
Ryan Stewart, a marketing entrepreneur specialist at WEBRIS, believes it is difficult to find the motive behind troll behavior, but he thinks that “it has to do with anonymity and invisibility online. Things you would never dare say face-to-face are oh so casually delivered online without any fear of real reprisal.” Andrew Selepak, social media professor at the University of Florida, agrees since the anonymity offered by social media platforms encourages trolls. Oftentimes, there are no consequences for the things they say online. “When there is no fear of consequences for what we say, we are more likely to say things without thinking or say things that we might not otherwise say offline for fear of how others might view us or the impact it could have on our personal or professional life,” he adds.
Saskia Ketz, CEO of Mojomox, thinks envy and jealousy are two of the main motives behind troll behavior. She believes trolls use the internet and anonymity it provides to express their personal dissatisfaction with their current situation. “They get a strange kind of joy from expressing hatred toward objects of want like fashion models, athletes, celebrities, the wealthy, and high achievers. It has the potential to generate narcissistic behavior, characterized as a preoccupation with one's own beauty, extreme selfishness, and a need to be admired by others,” she explains. Similarly, Matt McKnight, Founder and Editor of Humber Sport, agrees that “trolling can be due to jealousy.”
Emily Hall, CEO of Liquid Web NZ, explains that the motive may vary from person to person, and it often depends on the situation. The first motive, she says, is “the excitement and anticipation of waiting for someone to react to something that a person writes online must be the dopamine hit for many.” She goes on to explain that there also are trolls whose motives are less harmful, and rather comedic. “Those who post something or make a comment that plays on people's short attention spans, or lack of knowledge on a topic, which puts the people who respond into a humorous situation,” she explains.
“Trolling can be considered a status-enhancing hobby since it makes people feel more significant when they draw the attention of other readers or start a discussion on social media platforms,” says Stewart McGrenary, Director at Freedom Mobiles. He explains that the things they say online reflect their personal relationships and occupational hierarchy difficulties. However, Janis Von Bleichert, Founder of EXPERTE.com, tends to disagree saying that “trolling has been associated with 'aggressive humor' and only when coupled with other psychological traits, does it veer off into psychopathic behavior.” To reinforce his point, he talks about satirists like H.L Mencken or absurdists like Diogenes, and how they could also be considered trolls based on their behavior that revolved around aggressive humor.
Mike Miller, Editor-in-Chief at Wilderness Times, offers a different perspective on trolls. He recommends that we “take troll-related studies with a grain of salt.” He gives an example of trolls responding to various online polls and surveys and calls them ridiculous; he says that they take it to such an extreme level just for the sake of fun. He explains that “trolling is just a way certain people try to connect with others online. Or better said, get their attention.”
Tina Arnoldi, MA is a marketing consultant and freelance writer in Charleston SC. Learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com