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Are Internet Trolls Born or Made?

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TEACHERS: Guide your students to practice civil discourse about current topics and get practice writing CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) responses. Explore lesson supports.

Trolls are all over the internet, just annoying people to no end. So we were wondering, what makes someone an internet troll? Are some people just destined to be a troll, or do they develop this ability? The science may surprise you.

Believe it or not, but there have been numerous scientific studies surrounding trolling behavior. Several have found that internet trolls tend to have personality traits associated with sadism, psychopathy and machiavellianism. But new research out of Stanford and Cornell has found that when the conditions are right, regular old non-sadists can be provoked into trolling too. The researchers found that internet users are more likely to engage in troll-like behavior if they are in a bad mood or on a thread that already contains troll posts.

What’s the difference between an internet troll and a cyberbully?
Sometimes they are one in the same, sometimes they’re not. Trolls tend to antagonize communities in order to amuse themselves and get attention at the expense of others. Rather than seeking attention for themselves, a cyberbully’s goal on the other hand is usually to hurt or damage a specific person.

What type of people are Internet trolls? Several research studies have looked at trolling behavior and they have found that Internet trolls tend to have personality traits associated with the dark triad of personality traits, like psychopathy and machiavelianism. One study found the strongest association with sadism.

Can anyone become an internet troll? New research suggests that people can be provoked into trolling if they are in bad mood or if there are already troll posts on a comment thread or forum.


Online Harassment 2017 (Pew Research Center)
Trolling or Cyberbullying? Or Both?
Trolls Just Want to Have Fun
Constructing the cyber-troll: Psychopathy, sadism, and empathy
Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions

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