Ever since I started blogging, dozens of trolls have left nasty comments on my blog posts—anonymously.
In recent years, I've experienced the unpleasantness of a confrontational troll on Facebook and Twitter. In most cases, they use their real names. In some cases, I know the offender in real life.
In Internet slang
, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, either accidentally or with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response.
The sadism/trolling connection
In reading up on the topic, I came across a recent study
that examined the psychological motivation of trolls. It turns out that there are interesting correlations between sadism and trolling behavior.
Apparently, trolls find pleasure in inflicting pain and discomfort on others.
The definition of sadism is the tendency to derive pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others. So, the most maddening thing you can do to a troll is ignore them.
I know it's very difficult to do. They make such hurtful remarks. They spew accusations and untruths. Sometimes, they start an intellectual discussion, and when people thoughtfully respond, they savage every comment that differs from their own.
Given that sadists enjoy inflicting pain, every time you respond you're giving them what they want.
Narcissism and Machiavelliansim in play
The study, by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and colleagues, also found that trolls have a healthy dose of narcissism and Machiavellianism—the latter defined as the willingness to manipulate and deceive others. By interacting with them, people are unwittingly fueling their burning need to dominate the conversation.
Though it's very hard to just walk away from those conversations, I recommend doing just that. Responding to trolls only empowers them. I've had to unfriend a few trolls and I've chosen to permanently disengage with a few others. Unfortunately, they'll just move on to someone else who hasn't gotten the memo yet.
A version of this story first appeared on the author's blog, Public Relations Princess.