On Perusing the Comments Sections

“Trolls Just Want to Have Fun”

I have been thinking about this paper, particularly over the past day:

…Across two studies and two measures of trolling,…[trolls] displayed high levels of the Dark Tetrad [narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadistic personality] traits and a BFI [Big Five Inventory] profile consistent with those traits. It was sadism, however, that had the most robust associations with trolling of any of the personality measures, including those of the Big Five.

In fact, the associations between sadism and GAIT scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists (Buckels et al., 2013). Note that the Dark Tetrad associations were specific to trolling. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Subsequent analyses confirmed that the Dark Tetrad associations were largely due to overlap with sadism. When their unique contributions were assessed in a multiple regression, only sadism predicted trolling on both measures (trolling enjoyment and GAIT scores). In contrast, when controlling for sadism and the other Dark Tetrad measures, narcissism was actually negatively related to trolling enjoyment. Given that controlling for overall Internet use did not affect these results, personality differences in broader tendencies of Internet use and familiarity cannot explain the findings.

In the final analysis of Study 2, we found clear evidence that sadists tend to troll because they enjoy it. When controlling for enjoyment, sadism’s impact on trolling was cut nearly in half;…


…The Internet is an anonymous environment where it is easy to seek out and explore one’s niche, however idiosyncratic. Consequently, antisocial individuals have greater opportunities to connect with similar others, and to pursue their personal brand of “self expression” than they did before the advent of the Internet.

19 thoughts on “On Perusing the Comments Sections

  1. c thomson

    Personally, I am more into molesting gerbils than sadism per se. Or in squashing frogs.

    Making fun of pompous trad liberals is way down my list, though the ’emperor has no clothes’ aspect of academic economics has to be addressed occasionally.

    1. The Peak Oil Poet

      yes yes, squishing them little critters is so happy joy-joy

      i mean liberals nit gerbils – thay’s cute little rascals


    2. Patrick R. Sullivan

      ‘Personally, I am more into molesting gerbils than sadism per se.’

      Setting kitty cats’ tails on fire is fun too.

  2. Nick G

    Maybe it’s time for the moderators to delete offensive comments. Like the one above.

    1. The Peak Oil Poet

      cool, that was really aggressive – [deleted for racist language – MDC]


      1. Nick G

        Here’s the introduction to the comments section of a business publication (it’s pretty standard):

        “The commenter section is an opportunity for our readers to start a dialog on our content. While we don’t require you to use your real name, we do ask that you participate as though you were – that is, keep the conversation civil, stay on topic, avoid profanity, vulgarity and personal attacks, and please don’t post commercial or self-promotional material. We will remove comments that violate these standards.

        Again, as long as a person thinks in “us vs them” terms, they’ll be vulnerable to not thinking carefully and well.

    2. dilbert dogbert

      I suggest the system that HCN has. It has an ignore button along with others that allow the reader to not see that which offends.
      HCN is the comments section of Calculated Risk.

  3. Rick Stryker


    Just who are these trolls anyway? I have a funny feeling that these unnamed trolls have something in common: opposition to more government, to higher taxes, and to more regulation. I can only assume that psychologists are hard at work to show that a belief in less government is correlated with the Dark Tetrad.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Rick Stryker: A tad defensive?
      If you read the article, trolls are those who attack relentlessly, vituperatively, and anonymously. The paper makes no reference to ideological predisposition.
      I applaud those who make make arguments and put their name to their claims.

      1. genauer

        Mostly it is anonymous commenters.

        But it can also happen to you from a tenured professor in Ireland in a blog he was just a guest to.

        He terrorized people with different opinions, racists slurs, constant demands to reveal your identity, to be found later to try to really destroy the job of somebody he could identify, endless insults, name calling, demanding that I am banned with false charges, “I will find out where you live”, threatening law suits against people he had the names of.

        First I thought, what did I wrong, just to then get often comments form others, that I was the new one in a long list of victims, most of them just driven away, me nearly too.

        His tenured colleagues hesitated for quite a long time to finally eject him, and not me, from the blog, after he went fully agressive against somebody else.

        For some time I thought the discussions at the Financial Times are civilized, because people have to provide name, adress, credit card number an pay a minimum 50$/month subscription, before they can comment with their blogname.

        That changed recently when a whole company of trolls terrorized everybody not toeing the pro-War line with lies, threats, insults.

        You write one comment with a link (to resepctable sources, like Western Government TV) that refutes a statement in in article, and 10 minutes later you got 3 insults back.

        Even paid subscription is apparently not enough anymore to keep the trolls off.

        I know exactly why, to protect myself and sleep without fear, I will not give my clear name in any blog.

      2. Rick Stryker


        That’s not what a troll is. You don’t have any trolls commenting on your blog that I’ve seen, except perhaps intermittently. Trolls’ motives are complex, but it all comes down to doing it for the lulz (slang for laughs). A troll is similar to a con artist, grifter, or swindler in a number of ways. Con artists typically exploit the avarice of the mark and trolls are no different. You have to be connable to be conned and you have to be trollable to be trolled. Trolls look for serious, overly sincere, smug, or ideological people and then take fake positions to provoke their targets. They might pretend to make non-sensical statements, or they might assume a pose designed to outrage the target. But it’s all pretend and the trolls are doing it on purpose–for laughs. Some of this behavior is sadistic and there are certainly trolls out there who just want to shock and dismay people. But it’s not all sadistic.

        A very good example of troll behavior was done by Sacha Baron Cohen in his Ali G persona. Cohen pretended to be an ignorant rapper who interviewed serious, overly sincere, smug, or ideological people. Although Cohen is a serious liberal in real life, his targets were as often on the Left as on the Right, a typical characteristic of troll behavior. The point of the interviews was to bring out the underlying condescension and smugness of the targets so that Cohen and his audience could laugh at them. Cohen did the same thing with his Borat and Bruno characters. Cohen was doing on tv what trolls do in cyberspace.

        To pull it off, Cohen needed to be anonymous. Once the word got out that Ali G, Borat, and Bruno weren’t real, Cohen couldn’t get any more interviews. Similarly, trolls need to be anonymous to continue their activities.

        However, it doesn’t follow that if you want to comment anonymously on the internet, you must be a troll. A troll maintains anonymity because he’s essentially dishonest. A troll pretends be someone he’s not, and to have beliefs he really doesn’t have–for the lulz. But the people you believe are trolls really do believe what they are saying and they are not doing it for the lulz. You really don’t have trolls commenting on your blog.

        Most people, whether on the right or the left, comment pseudonymously or anonymously for practical reasons. Anonymity makes it much easier to talk freely about controversial issues. The “Federalist Papers” were written pseudonymously by Publius, although we know Hamilton, Madison, and Jay actually wrote them. When Thomas Paine wrote “Common Sense,” he didn’t use his real name.

        I believe anonymity is good. It encourages free speech and serious dialogue. I don’t really care who is on the other side of the pseudonym. Dispensing with real names allows us to concentrate on the argument itself, which is what we should be focusing on anyway. But anonymity doesn’t relieve people of the responsibility to be civil, to avoid personal attacks, and to keep comments on point as much as possible.

        1. baffling

          rick stryker, you are not really a troll-i agree. cliff claven, perhaps, but not really a troll 🙂

        2. Nick G

          I think all of that makes sense. Very few of even the most difficult commenters on this blog seem to be doing it just to provoke.

          A quibble on a detail: “Con artists typically exploit the avarice of the mark and trolls are no different. You have to be connable to be conned and you have to be trollable to be trolled. Trolls look for serious, overly sincere, smug, or ideological people ” is blaming the victim. The word “con” comes from “confidence”: these people prey on people’s trust. It can be convenient to use systems that put the victim in the position of doing something wrong, to prevent them from reporting the crime, but the essential element is exploitation of people’s trust and cooperation with others – often, in fact, criminals con artists prey on those who are most willing to trust others and help others. They don’t care – they just do whatever works. The same is true of trolls.

          1. Rick Stryker


            Yes, that’s a good point. Both con artists and trolls abuse people’s trust.

  4. Nick G


    As I think about this more, I agree that there’s a real problem that needs a solution – hostile commenters are lowering the enjoyment and educational value of reading the comments.

    The problem is less trolls, and more zombies: people who have gotten dead ideas and a predatory style from their thought leaders. Their arguments keep staggering forward even as they’re are shot down with answers. They seem to be in need of a live brain…

    Perhaps the moderator or readers could hide bad comments, so that others could have the option of ignoring them or uncovering them as desired?

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