Trolls Poison the Comment Well For Everyone

While trolls remain the minority, a recent study indicates that internet trolls have a negative impact on how content is perceived by readers.


Internet trolling is a hobby for some and a way of life for others. A recent paper from University of Manitoba found that Internet trolls really do troll just for the lulz. Those trolls who responded to the survey scored consistently high in terms of sadism, narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism — also known as the Dark Tetrad. So is it worth trying to fight against the trolls, or maintaining comments at all?

Trolling is generally distinct from cyber-bullying or genuine arguments online. According to the research, the purpose of as trolling isn’t to target one individual or play devil’s advocate. The only reason to troll is to sow discord in a comments section and to invoke fury from the other participants. Trolls are doing what they do entirely for personal satisfaction.

Survey participants were asked a series of questions and split into five groups: Non-commenters, debaters, chatters, trolls and other. By analyzing their answers in this framework researchers were able to gauge the qualities of each group. Trolls ranked significantly higher in Dark Tetrad traits. The more time spent commenting online, the more like these traits were to increase.

Trolls still remain a minority at less than six percent of Internet users surveyed. More than 40 percent of users surveyed fell into the non-commenter bracket, which is an even better indication that comments sections all over the Internet are not filled with voices of reason. If a little more than two-in-five of your readers aren’t commenting at all, why maintain a comments section?

Popular Science shut down its comments section in September 2013, citing the fact that troll comments can have a negative impact on the perception of otherwise perfectly good content as the reason. And Google has been trying to clean up YouTube comments by insisting that users comment through Google+ infrastructure.

As trolls have a negative impact on content, page and site admins have to continually weigh the benefits of maintain comment sections.  “Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments” said a University of Manitoba researcher in an email to Slate.

Image credit: Bludgeoner86