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A bridge too far? BYU research brings internet trolls’ dark traits to light

Jun 24, 2021, 4:56 PM | Updated: 4:58 pm
BYU internet troll study facebook logo...
FILE - In this April 14, 2020 file photo, the thumbs up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. BYU researchers found internet trolls may have some dark personality traits in common, such as enjoying others' pain. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

PROVO, Utah — That internet troll lurking under the bridge of your Facebook feed may look a little different to you, in light of new research into the personality traits of trolls from BYU

Researchers at Brigham Young University found many trolls exhibit the “dark triad” of personality traits. Those include narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. 

“In fact, [internet trolls] really need to have schadenfreude,” Brubaker said. “Schadenfreude is the tendency to receive pleasure from the misfortune of others.”

BYU research: Internet trolls enjoy your troubles 

According to Brubaker, a number of trolls know they’re trolls, and think that they’re funny. They don’t see themselves as speaking out or trying to create dialogue. 

“They want to provoke other people, they want to make them angry, they want a reaction, they want an emotion reaction at the expense of others,” she said. 

Brubaker’s research included a survey of hundreds of Reddit users. It found those who exhibited trolling behaviors also tended to have darker personality traits. 

Read more: Political science professor: Recognizing fake news is ‘up to you’

To the rest of us non-trolls, the internet in general and social media in particular can seem like an unfriendly place. 64% of Americans in a recent Pew survey said social media negatively impacts society. 

“We know incivility in many forms, whether it’s bullying or trolling, is pervasive online,” Brubaker said. “And so being able to understand why it’s occuring is really important.” 

Knowing more about internet trolls, the BYU professor said, could make it easier to combat them — or at least employ mute, block and ignore options. 

The journal of Social Media and Society published the research.

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A bridge too far? BYU research brings internet trolls’ dark traits to light