Troll Psychology: A discussion on ‘internet bullying’

An interesting suggestion was put forward to me on Yahoo answers the other day by ‘Patricia’ who said that I should write an article about internet bullying and more specifically why the internet bullies; or trolls are compelled to purposely to post inflammatory comments on websites in the first place. Please be warned that this article does contain some strong language, if you are easily offended please do not read any further.

What is a troll?

Before we begin we need to define exactly what a troll is. According to Wikipedia a troll is “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

The definition in my opinion is spot on but it certainly doesn’t tell us what motivates an internet troll. Not being one myself I can not really tell you with any kind of first person experience. I can offer you the opinions of others though.

Why so aggressive?

In my own opinion I do not think there is any singular reason why people feel like they need to be trying to insult others on the internet but rather a combination of a number of factors. A very nice article about exactly this came from Michael Marshall of the prestigious New Scientist publication back in 2007. You can read the full post here but here are some points that I found interesting:

“Social psychologists have known for decades that, if we reduce our sense of our own identity; a process called deindividuation, we are less likely to stick to social norms. For example, in the 1960s Leon Mann studied a nasty phenomenon called “suicide baiting“, when someone threatening to jump from a high building is encouraged to do so by bystanders. Mann found that people were more likely to do this if they were part of a large crowd, if the jumper was above the 7th floor, and if it was dark. These are all factors that allowed the observers to lose their own individuality.”

“Another obvious factor is that, if you insult someone online, it’s unlikely you’ll face any physical retaliation for it. Epley compares the resulting psychological distance to being isolated inside a car, another situation that seems to make people more prone to abusiveness.”


John Gabriel of Penny Arcade sums up the apparent effects of anonymity on the internet nicely with his 2004 illustration titled “John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory”.

Be glad for anonymity, it’s why you still have teeth.

Anonymity on the internet is what makes the internet so great but dangerous at the same time. The internet brings freedom of speech to everyone without fear of any kind of physical consequence. We can say exactly what we are thinking on the internet without any inhibition at all. It is almost comparable to being drunk. After a few drinks most people tend feel a lot less socially inhibited and socialise freely, after a few more drinks some people may start saying things that they wouldn’t normally in a sober state. This quite often leads to violence or social rejection, something that doesn’t have to be considered when dealing with strangers on the internet.

With freedom of speech and anonymity we are able to escape all of societies rules. We are able to disregard what it is to behave in a socially acceptable manner. So absolutely anonymity is the enabling factor in such behaviour as that of an internet troll.

But the question “Why do it?” still remains. It seems that even the trolls themselves are unable to answer the question:

“I’ve been a professional troll and hater for like 10 years. My favorite is on halo microphone, victims can hear the tone of my hate too. I never knew why I was like this. – Posted by anonymous”

So I went troll hunting to see if I could get an answer to my question. So far I have been unsuccessful in finding one that is willing to talk, or atleast offer any kind of valuable insight.

“Looking for a reformed internet troll!?” read the headline on Yahoo! Answers. Here are the responses I received so far.

“Sense of pride and superiority that everyone is looking/reading your question. – Black British”

“Its funny and the @ssholes on here are only here because of the trolls. We make their pathetic lives more interesting. – Ben-A”

“Sorry don’t know any losers. – ILUV@MAK”

“Ask Sydney @ Level 3 – ?Freefr?…”

So far the responses I have had are pretty mediocre so if you are a self-confessed troll let me know your opinion in the comments below or send me and e-mail via the contact page. has provided a bit of a tongue-in-cheek  article titled “How to become an internet troll“. With such handy advice as:

Contribute nothing of value to the discussion forum. As a good troll, your goal is to abuse the members psychologically and provoke negative reactions out of them. Go big or don’t go in at all. Have fun with it, when someone counter-attacks, get playful with them–nothing pisses off someone in a rage than when you joke around with them.

53 thoughts on “Troll Psychology: A discussion on ‘internet bullying’”

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