Thursday, February 27, 2014

Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Part 2)

It would be really nice to offer up a recipe for Larks' Tongues in Aspic but there seems to be a recently imposed ban on the import of Larks' Tongue and though the import of live Larks is not restricted the notion of creating a flock of mute Larks is somehow unappetizing.

We are left with little but to disclose more research on the goals of trolls. Based on lived experience harking back to the dark days of the internet when WAIS and Gopher were your friend, email might well take a day to deliver and files were shared using a rather inconveniently named File Transfer Protocol (who knew?) the crufty bastards amongst us know you just don't feed the trolls. And they know why--the scorched eyeballs and blistered fingers from flame wars are why enough. While they know why not to feed the trolls no one really knows why the trolls exist and where they breed.

Until now.

Canadian researchers led by Erin E. Buckels have been studying trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality resulting in a very interesting report that is the first comprehensive study of the personality traits of Internet trolls. You remember the Dark Tetrad don't you? Well for those who just can't put their finger on it the Dark Tetrad of personality is narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and last but by no means least, sadism.

Dark indeed.

The gist of this report is the revelation that self-described online trolls (so clearly you know who you are) score highly in these personality traits. It is also interesting to note the researchers found it worthwhile to independently study direct and vicarious sadism.


In fact the authors noted "It was sadism, however, that had the most robust associations with trolling of any of the personality measures..." and observed that this trait is so strong "that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists." Somehow "everyday" and "sadists" just do not belong in the same sentence.

Flipping the coin (heads you're a sadist, tails you're a troll) the researchers "found clear evidence that sadists tend to troll because they enjoy it. When controlling for enjoyment, sadism's impact on trolling was cut nearly in half". As the title clearly states "Trolls just want to have fun."

But wait! There's more!

The research also indicated a strong positive relation among online commenting frequency, trolling enjoyment, and trolling behavior and identity though causality is yet to be determined. The authors suggest that it is the antisocial nature of the troll that leads to higher usage rates of technology (and commenting) while other research suggests that it is the technology that actually causes the antisocial behavior.

And therein lies the rub: the research is inconclusive. If one allows for trolls (e.g., comments on a blog) does that cultivate the inherent sadism within the commenter? Or does virtual world sadism act as a relief valve literally and figuratively venting what might, should it remain bottled up, manifest itself not only in a more violent manner but bleeding over into the real world? Conventional wisdom falls clearly to the former and we just shouldn't feed the trolls.

With all apologies to true fans of King Crimson.