Research suggests sadism spurs Internet trolls

There is now scientific evidence that Internet trolls are indeed just as mean in their private lives as they are in their digital ones, and it appears the driving force behind their trolling is good old-fashion sadism.

The research comes from a team out of Canada from multiple universities who put their findings rather bluntly. “It might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists,” the investigators state.

In other words, Internet trolls are not the nicest people in the world, but they are as old as time.

Sadism is no joke; it is indicative of psychological disturbance and, in extreme cases, can be diagnosed using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Loosely defined, a sadist is a person who derives pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering or humiliation on others.

This is nothing new. In fact, the term “sadist” comes from the infamous Marquis de Sade, a French writer of the 1700s and early 1800s who was imprisoned in an asylum for his lewdness.

“Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” the researchers wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun and the Internet is their playground!”

Also sharing this trolling playground with the sadists: psychopaths (people who show a lack of empathy or remorse), Machiavellian-like souls (those with the need to deceive others) and narcissists (well, we are all too familiar with these).

The paper, titled “Trolls just want to have fun,” defines online trolling as the practice of “behaving in a deceptive, destructive or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet.

If you spend any amount of time in an online comments section, you’ve more than likely encountered an individual like the ones described above.

We all know a troll when we see one; it’s that person who drives the discussion off-topic, the person who says something so egregious you know they are baiting someone for a response, and when they get that response they latch on and never let go.

You can’t help but feel that this type of behavior takes place on every comment section on every page of the Internet. But despite this perceived prevalence, researchers want us to know online trolls are a minority.

The researchers found that 58.7 percent of survey respondents commented on online forums and of those, just 5.6 percent said they enjoyed trolling.

Still, if you do the math, there are an estimated 8.3 million online trolls in the United States alone. That’s 8.3 million out of 254 million Internet users.

That’s a lot of commenting, especially if the average online commenter spends about an hour a day in the comments section.

Although the researchers don’t give any explicit advice, they do cite the now-famous adage with which I have to agree:

Don’t feed the trolls.

John Kunza may be reached at (865) 342-6822 or john.kunza@knoxnews.com.

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