There has been a substantial rise of social media in recent years which undoubtedly has contributed to ‘troll’ behaviour. The internet allows people to develop anonymous personalities meaning that users have little sense of accountability when online, it is therefore easy for people to forget that on the other end of the connection is a real human being with real feelings.
There are little to no instances where the media have discussed or investigated the causes of trolling itself. Here at What’s Up TV we wanted to find out what goes on in the minds of those behind the screen. Are the perpetrators ‘troubled souls’ who are actually battling mental health issues and disorders themselves?
‘Every internet troll has a different backstory and therefore different reasons for feeling the need to troll a community or an individual on the internet. They may feel depressed, attention-starved, angry, sad, jealous, narcissistic or some other emotion they may not be entirely conscious of what's influencing their online behaviour...Remember that a person who seems like a troll is actually the one suffering in some way and is trying to distract themselves and make themselves feel better by taking it out on you..’
One of the largest anti-bullying charities in the world Ditch The Label never call anyone a ‘bully’ or ‘troll’. Sue Jones, their deputy CEO revealed to us that the charity have found in their research bullies are often suffering in some way and this causes their behaviour. Sue found that of the internet trolls they have offered help to, it’s very uncommon that the reason behind their behaviour is because they find it amusing. She also pointed out that mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and low self esteem can often cause individuals to troll online.
In 2016 Scotland Yard invested 1.7 million pounds into a ‘troll-hunting’ unit to target online hate crime. A year after this unit was created, as many as nine people per day were arrested for posting offensive messages online. Perhaps the creation of this unit was too focused on prosecuting offenders without taking their mitigating circumstances, particularly mental health issues, into account. We spoke to a leading criminal defence solicitor Colin Davis who claimed that there are mental health aspects to trolling and many within the realm of criminal defence law believe it would be better to rely on the social services to deal with internet trolls as opposed to the police and the courts.
In 2016, a psychological study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that internet trolls often possessed narcissistic and sadistic traits. Dr Aaron Balick believes this could be possible. In recent years psychologists have done research into the ‘Dark Tertrad’ personality traits and studies have revealed that internet trolls often possess these traits in the form of narcissism, psychopathy and sadism. Could the existence of these traits be the reason why people troll?
‘Internet trolls are psychopaths and narcissists.’ Research published by Canadian psychologists in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences in 2016 asked 415 participants to create an online questionnaire and found that trolls tend to be males with high levels of psychopathy, low levels of empathy and sadism traits. The researchers surveyed 1215 internet users about their commenting behaviour and administered a personality test designed to measure ‘The Dark Tetrad’ - a measure of negative traits such as sadism, psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Dr Aaron Balick, a psychologist with over 20 years of research believed this research to be correct and the existence of ‘Dark Tetrad’ personality traits to be common in individuals who choose to engage in online abuse.
At What’s Up TV we surveyed a number on online trolls and asked them why they carry out such behaviour. These were the responses we received:
‘Trolling is good fun! Don’t take everything on the internet so seriously.’
‘It’s funny to tick people off, even if I don’t know them.’
‘Because I’m bored, lonely, hurt and sometimes you want to lower people to your level.’
‘The lack of consequences’
‘People are funny when they get angry’
‘I suffer from self-esteem issues, it’s a way to feel better about myself’
‘If I can’t get positive attention from people at least I can get negative attention’
‘I revel in the idea of other people responding angrily to what I post’
‘It helps me feel better about myself to make fools out of other people’
‘Trolling makes me feel superior to others’
‘100% for comedic value’
‘To connect with others’
‘I like to cause trouble. I bully people out of boredom and I don’t regret it. It’s great fun’
‘A combination of wanting to lash out and being anonymous’
‘Some people say it’s just for fun..I have a hard time believing that’
‘It’s fun. It makes me laugh really hard. It’s easy. It’s kind of addicting’
‘It’s funny because you aren’t on the receiving end.’
Though psychologists have done a good job at explaining the forces which gave birth to the troll, they don’t really know who these people are and what drives them. In order to combat this growing problem, perhaps we ought to turn the mirror onto those who abuse. By thinking of trolling as a public health issue we may start a discussion about the mental state of those who choose to engage in such damaging behaviour and subsequently know how to better tackle and prevent it.
For help and advice: