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HomeVideoInternet Trolls: Born That Way?

Internet Trolls: Born That Way?

What makes someone an internet troll?

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices.

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.

ABOVE THE NOISE is a show that cuts through the hype and investigates the research behind controversial and trending topics in the news. Hosted by Myles Bess.


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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.

Want to bring Above the Noise into the classroom? Check out our lesson plan other support materials:

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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About KQED
KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio, and web media. Funding for Above the Noise is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Silver Giving Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.