Regarding that University of Manitoba Trolling Study

February 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’ve been contemplating how best to respond –if I should respond at all– to the recent University of Manitoba study conducted by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus suggesting that trolls, or people who are said to engage in trolling behaviors (I would argue that there is a difference, or at least that how we define our terms significantly impacts whatever resulting findings), are marked by the so-called Dark Tetrad of personality traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and sadism. Not because I’m not invested in the conversation, obviously I am, but because my methodological approach is so far removed from those presented in the aforementioned study that it almost seems odd to compare these apples to those oranges.

Specifically, I chose not to ask psychological motives-based questions. One could, of course; it’s easy to see why this question –what exactly is WRONG with people who troll, anyway?– would be appealing to researchers and general audiences. But for the purposes of my own work, these were the wrong questions to ask. First, while I don’t doubt that many trolls/people who engage in behaviors described as trolling are indeed Machiavellian, narcissistic, and sadistic, perhaps at a higher incidence than within a random population sample (but perhaps not, depending on the population and sample therein), these conclusions are often difficult (if not impossible) to verify, particularly when you’re dealing with anonymous or pseudonymous subjects. Put simply, even when taken straight from the horse’s mouth, the fact that you are asking a troll ANYTHING immediately presents the possibility, if not high likelihood, that you are wading through a ten foot high puddle of bullshit. Because, again, troll.

So there’s that, but for me, the question of why individual trolls do what they do and what their particular damage might be is less interesting than why our culture is so amenable to trolls. That’s a completely different, and from my perspective, more dangerous line of inquiry, since it calls into question the seemingly clear-cut distinction between those who troll and those who are engaged in ostensibly “normal” behaviors — behaviors that are actually every bit as problematic (I’m looking at you, Fox News). Which happens to be the underlying thesis of my book and also everything I’ve ever written about trolls. I would make a joke about fruit salad or something, but I’m tired. Anyway it’s Friday, go home!

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