Psychological Qualities of Trolls and How to Handle Them
Trolls happen. But it’s the decision you take in reacting to them that can affect your brand.
Trolls happen. But it’s the decision you take in reacting to them that can affect your brand. For the amount of trolling that occurs, there has limited research into the topic; Claire Hardaker led the way in 2010 with a look into the content generated by trolling – concluding that there were four fundamentals to trolling behaviour “deception, aggression, disruption, and success.” (Hardaker, 2010)
While these content behaviours were helpful in recognising trolling behaviour, there was limited research into understanding why people act out in this way.
The first psychological look into trolling was released in November, through the journal Personality and Individual Differences, where Naomi Craker and Evita March looked at the Dark Tetrad personality traits as a way of predicting trolling online, in this case Facebook.
Composed for four different, negative personality types – Narcissism, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Sadism; the Dark Tetrad was discovered by Erin Buckels and Delroy Paulhus, University of British Columbia and Daniel Jones, University of Texas at El Paso as they searched for an extension to universally accepted Dark Triad of personality theory.
Craker and March set out to discover if there was a personality more predominant in trolling, and to identify the attributes of such personality types, in order to be able to respond effectively, and without disruption to your community.
Through the research, it became apparent that Psychopathy and Sadism personality traits are the perfect candidates for Facebook trolling – Psychopaths “lack empathy and show a disregard for the physiological distress caused to others” where as Sadists are “merciless, emotionally cruel, driven by the pleasure they get through others pain and discomfort” (Craker and March, 2016; pg. 80)
While Craker and March disregard the Machiavellianism trait as one for Facebook trolling; the calculating and strategic nature, coupled with the ability to exercise impulse constraint may make Machiavellianists to be a likely candidate for trolling within other community assets, such as online forums, where they can manipulate others into their disregard for other community members.
All three personality types are driven by personal gain, in this case negative social reward tied to chaos through the repeated posting of aggressive arguments and malicious messages to both the brand or other community members.
It’s important to note that the fourth Dark Tetrad personality type, narcissism isn’t considered part of the troll environment due to the self-focus behaviour. While this personality trait is typical with having difficulty relating to empathy; the lack of desire to inflict pain onto others means that they aren’t synonymous with trolling like the other three Dark Tetrad types.
By recognising these Dark Tetrad traits in trolling personalities, it makes it easier for community managers to be able to respond accordingly. Here, the classic “don’t feed the trolls” really comes to life. Rather than risk your brand or community reputation, which these personality types will see as a negative social reward for their efforts – a lack of engagement must occur, no matter how much you wish to respond.
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