Canadian researchers have confirmed what most people suspected all along: that internet trolls are archetypal Machiavellian sadists.
In a survey conducted by the group of psychologists, people who partake in so-called trolling online showed signs of sadism, psychopathy, and were Machiavellian in their manipulation of others and their disregard for morality.
The researchers defined online trolling as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet” for no purpose other than their pleasure.
To achieve the results, the team asked internet users about subjects including how much time they spend online, and whether they comment on websites such as YouTube.
They were also given tests that measured their responses against psychology's "Dark Tetrad": narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and a sadistic personality.
Questions also surrounded sadistic statements including: ''I enjoy physically hurting people,” “I enjoy making jokes at the expense of others” and “I enjoy playing the villain in games and torturing other characters.”
“It was sadism, however, that had the most robust associations with trolling of any of the personality measures,” said psychologists from the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and University of British Columbia in an article published in the ‘Personality and Individual Differences’ journal.
It went on to claim that trolls are “agents of chaos” that exploit “hot-button issues” to inflame and exploit users’ emotions,
"If an unfortunate person falls into their trap, trolling intensifies for further, merciless amusement. This is why novice Internet users are routinely admonished, 'Do not feed the trolls!'," the study warned.
The team concluded that those who enjoyed trolling more than other activities, such debating and making friends, had tendencies in line with the psychological “Dark Tetrad”.
Perhaps most worryingly, the psychologists based their conclusion on cyber-trolling being an “Internet manifestation of everyday sadism,” rather than merely on online phenomenon.
It is thought the findings may contribute towards a trend of sites such as YouTube and the Huffington Post requiring users to comment using registered accounts rather than allowing anonymous posts.