In 2014, research in the emerging field of cyberpsychology unveiled the truth of internet trolls: they are narcissistic, sadistic psychopaths.
Trolling behavior suggests that many carry several traits, most notably those of the Dark Triad: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Sadism is another trait highly found in trolls.
But this notion only weeds out ‘human’ trolls; as of 2017, the majority of internet trolls are bots.
Two Main Purposes
Trolls have two simple purposes: reaction or influence. Human trolls do what they do for a reaction, while troll bots seek to influence.
A reaction troll can be anybody; a public figure, a family member, or even your neighbor. Meanwhile, influence trolls have a strategic business, financial or political aim, and are usually run by a corporation, organization, military or state government.
An example of a reaction troll would be an individual online user, usually anonymous, spewing hatred on another user. The reaction troll — depending on the circumstance — is likely to suffer from traits synonymous with the Dark Triad, causing such antisocial behavior on the internet.
On the flip side, an example of influence trolls is the US military’s sockpuppet operation to counter violent extremist and foreign propaganda by posting on blogging websites and manipulating social media.
Ntrepid, a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Virginia, once received a contract for “online persona management,” allowing for a US Air Force soldier to control up to ten troll accounts using a virtual private network (VPN), among other tools, according to The Guardian.
“Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms,” according to a synopsis of the electronic subversion software.
Additionally, Russia, along with other countries, who’ve allegedly engaged in arming and executing influence trolls as part of a widely publicized operation to disrupt the 2016 US Presidential election process, would be another prime example of influence trolls.
Trolling & Frustration-Aggression
An internet troll, by definition, is an individual who posts inflammatory, off-topic messages on an online community board. The purpose is to provoke an emotional response, usually under anonymity.
Whether it’s a reaction or influence troll, both have the capacity to cause chaos, depending on how one perceives the encounter.
A typical troll, with an aim to harass, will cause the receiving end to act upon anxiety or frustration. If anxiety occurs, then usual coping mechanisms will be activated to find solutions. Once a solution is found, then anxiety begins to diminish, and the person is back to the pre-trolling level of functioning.
If, however, frustration occurs, then there is a chance coping mechanisms will be utilized to find solutions to minimize the frustration. If a solution is found, frustration will diminish; however, it will remain residual, even long after the trolling encounter.
Now, if the encounter is severe enough, and no solutions or coping mechanisms work to minimize the frustration, then the individual will progress to an aggressive state, in which the aggression gets displaced onto another innocent target.
Over time, if the aggression is persistent, and a severe crisis still exists, then the affected individual may start to experience signs of personality disorganization.
Theoretically, both types of trolls could cause personality disorganization. Many news and blog articles exist on the topic of reaction trolling and cyberbullying, and its negative effects on the psyche.
Needlesstosay, though, cyberpsychology is an emerging field, and much more research is still needed to understand this anonymous, unfathomable behavior better.