Who are the Internet Trolls and What Motivates Them?

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Who are the Internet Trolls and What Motivates Them?

one characteristics of  an internet troll is being a psychopath/ Photo By Wavebreak Media Ltd via 123RF


With the advancement of technology, harassment and bullying have also advanced. They have come to find their place in cyberspace. Internet trolls are the perpetrators of these. Their sole purpose for being online is to hurt other internet users with a comment or a post. They relish in turning an innocent internet discussion into a mean-spirited one that becomes a channel for them to cyberbully, the Harrison Daily Times says.

The Pew Research Center states that 40 % of Americans have been harassed online.

What Is an Internet Troll?

According to Psychology Today, an internet troll is “someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation.”

Dr. Claire Hardaker, a senior lecturer in linguistics at Lancaster University, says that they cause conflict on the internet to amuse themselves.

Characteristics of a Troll

A 2014 study conducted by Canadian researchers from the University of Manitoba reveals that trolls are characterized by a combination of toxic personality traits referred to as the Dark Triad. The research led by Erin Buckels was published in the journal Personality and Individual Disorders.


lack of empathy is one of the main reasons why people troll online/ Photo By kantver via 123RF


The result of their study shows that trolls have these traits:


People with this trait are calculating and easily provoked, especially when they are not able to get attention.


Individuals with this characteristic use merely use others as a means to attain their goal. They manipulate, lie and take advantage of others in order to achieve their objective.


These are people who do not feel any guilt or empathy, tend to display impulsive behavior, constantly break social and legal rules and have a self-centered view.


This consists of people who find pleasure in hurting others, making others feel ashamed and seeing others suffer.

Causes of Trolling

The TurboFuture discusses the factors that may prompt someone to troll online. These reasons include:

They just want to have “fun”

Buckels and his colleagues say that both sadist and trolls feel “sadistic glee” at other people’s affliction. They conclude, “Sadists just want to have fun… and the Internet is their playground.”

Joel Stein, a writer for Time Magazine says that people troll to get laughs or “lulz”. He further explains that they troll for laughs which can go from clever pranks to dangerous threats.

Lack of empathy

After surveying 400 people about trolling behavior, Australian researchers discovered that trolls had low levels of affective and emotional empathy, which is the ability to experience another individual’s emotion like it is contagious. Contrarily, the trolls were shown to have high cognitive empathy, which is the ability to comprehend how others feel while not being able to sympathize with others.

The study, which was published in 2017, says that trolls use an empathic strategy to be able to identify and predict the emotional pain of their targets and at the same time, not feeling those negative emotions.

The authors deduced that, “... Trolls appear to be master manipulators of both cyberbullying settings and their victims’ emotions.”

Disinhibition effect

This is defined by Professor Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, as what happens when people loosen their emotional guard and act in certain ways they would never do in public.

Trolls may perceive their anonymity as a privilege that allows them to exhibit anti-social behavior online. They are not afraid of getting bad impressions on social media, chat rooms and comment sections because they are anonymous anyway. Since they do not fear other people’s judgments, their negative impulses become unrestrained.

Kinds of Trolling

The Guardian lists the various methods that trolls use to get a response from a victim. These methods are astroturfing, sea lioning, concern trolling, counter-trolling, incitement trolling, and trolljacking.


This involves a country using an army of trolls to do their will. China and Russia are examples of countries that have used astroturfing.

Sea lioning

This is done by persistently asking questions and continue to criticize a topic in a seemingly polite manner, then when the person they are trolling suddenly gets angered they play the victim role.


In concern trolling, the troll tries to make it look like they said a harsh comment because they care about the victim. However, this is just a way to conceal the fact that they did not actually say that out of concern. They really just wanted to insult the person.


counter trolling is the use of humor and sarcasm to end exaggerated discussions and arguments/ Photo By Wavebreak Media Ltd via 123RF



One engages in counter trolling when they use humor and sarcasm to end exaggerated discussions and arguments. However, Hardaker explains that trolls can ruthlessly distort the online context of a post in situations when a victim retaliates with this kind of trolling.

She illustrates, “Online contexts lends itself to being ruthlessly decontextualized so that all we get is a single incriminating picture, tweet or post and everyone judges an entire person’s worth and character on a single snapshot.”

Incitement Trolling

This type of trolling involves a social media user prompting their followers or online friends to harass the victim. They may do this by posting a picture of the person or quoting statements from them while telling others to spread it. This is done to make the victim ashamed of what they said or did.

Usually, high profile social media users like celebrities do this, inciting their fanbase to attack their target.


This type of trolling is actually a harmless one. This kind of trolling attempts to stop spreading online hate by responding with humor. For example, on a subreddit that promoted hate against non-white people, other internet users began making them places to dump pictures of bad weather. In another subreddit that was trying to encourage discrimination, other users turned it into a site where they drop pictures of sticks and food.

How to Respond to Trolls

Hardaker highlights, “The average troll seems to find silence absolutely infuriating.”

It is advised that internet users do not engage with trolls. It is much better to keep silent. The more they react to these trolls, the more they feed their sadistic pleasures. Any comment or response will be seen as a confirmation that they have upset someone. If they choose not to pay attention to the trolls, they will move on and look for other potential victims.

If they want to prevent them from continuing their harassment, they may report them to the admins of the website. In their report, they should include a record of how the troll has attacked them. For example, they may attach a screenshot as evidence.

Truly, the best way to deal with them is not to at all. It is best to ignore them so that they do not get caught in some internet conflict.



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