Written by: 
Knolly Moses

The pettiness on social media seems to have no limits. The anonymity these channels sometimes afford is obviously perfect for people looking to say nasty things without consequences.

Perhaps the most irritating negative behaviour online is that of the Internet trolls. These people go out of their way to annoy or hurt others by leaving insulting comments, interrupting discussion to start an argument or just being provocative.

Can they really be that bored? Don’t they have anything better to do with their lives? Turns out the answers may be a lot deeper, and a lot darker. Australian researchers conducted a study to see what kind of are linked to a propensity to troll. They looked for social skills, psychopathy, sadism and two types of empathy – cognitive – the ability to understand others’ emotions – and affective – able to experience, internalize and respond to others’ emotions.

Trolls scored higher than average on psychopathy and cognitive empathy.  This means they exhibited a lack of care for other’s feelings (a trait of psychopathy), and they could recognize and understand what would upset someone (due to the high levels of cognitive empathy). Their lack of affective empathy means they do not then experience or internalize the emotional experience of those they attack.

The study also showed trolls are sadistic (gaining pleasure from hurting others). Such sadism, and the impulsivity and thrill seeking of psychopathy indicate a desire to create mayhem in social media.  Simply put, trolls know how to upset you, they want to upset you, and it doesn’t bother them when they do.

Since there is no exact cure for such behaviour, the best thing you can do when you see a troll online or you are a victim of one of their attacks is to simple ignore it, no matter how irritating. Responding is likely to escalate the situation.

Remind yourself, while online, and in real life too, that people’s personal attacks are usually not personal at all. Rather, these are symptoms of their internal battle. Let them fight themselves!