Death and Lulz: Understanding the personality characteristics of RIP trolls
First Monday

Death and Lulz: Understanding the personality characteristics of RIP trolls by Kathryn C. Seigfried-Spellar and Siddharth S. Chowdhury



Abstract
Trolling on the Internet is a form of deviant behavior that borderlines cyberharassment. A specific type of trolling behavior involving individuals posting rude/harassing comments on online memorial pages is known as RIP or memorial page trolling. This study compared the personality traits of self-reported RIP trolls to other trolls who did not engage in RIP trolling (non-RIP trolls); 30 respondents were classified as RIP trolls and 119 respondents as non-RIP trolls. Results indicated RIP trolls scored significantly lower on conscientiousness and internal moral values compared to non-RIP trolls. Overall, trolls are not a homogenous group; further supporting the need for future research to explore individual differences within the trolling community. By understanding the personality and morality differences between trolls and non-trolls, we may be able to identify those individuals at risk for engaging in different forms of online harassment.

Contents

Introduction
Method
Results
Discussion and conclusions

 


 

Introduction

With the advent of the Internet, harassment has become a common occurrence in the online world. Around 33 percent of youth reported experiencing some form of online harassment in the last year, and nine percent of individuals experienced this specifically on a social networking platform (Ybarra and Mitchell, 2008). Lindsay and Krysik (2012) found some of the significant predictors of being harassed online are time on social networking sites and owning an Internet connected phone. Online harassment’s effects are well documented; victims of Internet-based harassment have faced multiple psychosocial challenges such as poor parent–child relationships, academic problems, substance use, behavioral problems, psychological distress, and delinquency (Beran and Li, 2007; Brown, et al., 2006; Campbell, 2005; Hinduja and Patchin, 2007; Patchin and Hinduja, 2006; Raskauskas and Stoltz, 2007; Varjas, et al., 2009; Ybarra and Mitchell, 2004; Ybarra, et al., 2006).

One form of online harassment that has gained the attention of scholars is often referred to as Internet or online trolling (Phillips, 2015). Behaviors which differentiate trolls from other forms of cyberharassment, such as cyberbullying, are that trolls anonymously target strangers (Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar, 2016), and they “rarely have personal investment in the things they say and do” [1]. Hardaker (2010) defines a troll as ”a computer-mediated communicator who tries to be part of a group with the real intention of causing disruptions, or creating and intensifying conflicts for their own amusement” [2]. For example, one type of trolling designed to incite anger is commonly referred to as “flame trolling” (Bishop, 2013); the troll publically posts a comment that will “bait” someone into to a heated debate; the troll’s goal is for the heated debate to intensify to the point of a flame war.

The reasons for trolling are varied including harassment, entertainment, and social learning, although most show antisocial cues. The troll posts can be deliberate, repeated, and hostile in nature to cause emotional harm or distress to the victims (Dickerson, 2005). Many trolls post messages and media on publically available forums just to harass and aggravate others (Bishop, 2014) or simply for their own amusement (Paul, et al., 2015; Thacker and Griffins, 2012). Trolling behaviors could also be looked at from a social context. It could be occurring through social learning (Thacker and Griffiths, 2012), or to gain a sense of belonging and gain acceptable into groups (Bishop, 2013). Thanks to the anonymous nature of the Internet, trolls believe they can perform any actions without concern for consequences (Phillips, 2011a), and this sense of anonymity could be another enabling factor for such behavior (Bishop, 2013). In addition, trolls are known to psychologically provoke and manipulate members of online communities in order to disrupt the normal functioning of these groups (Herring, et al., 2002).

However, trolling behaviors may be more common than expected, even if not well understood. According to Gammon (2014), only 45 percent of adults are aware of trolling, but 28 percent of those surveyed in the U.S. admitted to performing malicious actions towards a stranger on the Internet, and 12 percent intentionally made controversial statements online to spark arguments. According to Statista (2014), trolling behaviors occur most often on topics involving politics (49 percent), current events (38 percent), and religion (38 percent). In addition, Gammon (2014) found 45 percent of individuals reported seeing trolling occur in chat rooms, followed by 39 percent on social media sites, and another 39 percent on blogs. According to Fichman and Sanfilippo (2015), those aware of trolls assume males are motivated by malevolence, humor, and instigation at a rate higher than women, whereas women are thought to be more ideological.

Although, the act of trolling is generally seen as destructive or deceptive in nature (Buckels, et al., 2014); over the past few years, the motivation for trolling has evolved from being “for the Lolz” to “for the Lulz” and can be better understood with these classes of trolling (Bishop, 2014). Initially, the purpose of trolling in online platforms was for the entertainment of the troll, as well as others in the specific online community (Bishop, 2014). The traditional form of trolling for humor (i.e., the Lolz) is considered “classical trolling” (Bishop, 2014), and the “laugh” resulted from some form of harmless, online prank. However, the contemporary forms of trolling involve posting offensive messages that result in a nefarious or evil “laugh” (i.e., the Lulz).

Within the gaming community, researchers have examined a type of trolling behavior referred to as griefing (Paul, et al., 2015; Fragoso, 2015). Griefers are sometimes discussed as a separate category of “disruptive and aggressive online social interactions” from trolls [3] or a “form of game play” [4]. Griefers perform specific actions within a game in order to disrupt others’ game experience (Paul, et al., 2015); they often achieve this by making the gaming experience unpleasant, painful, or even traumatic (Fragoso, 2015). According to Paul, et al. (2015), griefers engage in these behaviors as a form of entertainment, which is similar to traditional trolling for the lolz (i.e., self-pleasure through entertainment; Bishop, 2014). In addition, the gameplay style of griefers may be antisocial in nature, but they still obtain the same level of entertainment as someone who has a traditional gameplay style (Paul, et al., 2015).

However, for the current study, griefing was not specifically examined since it is discussed in the literature as a separate category of trolling, rather than a subtype, and it occurs exclusively within the online gaming community (Paul, et al., 2015; Fragoso, 2015). Instead, we focused on a specific subtype of trolling referred to as the rest-in-peace (RIP) trolling or memorial page trolling. This category of trolling moves away from trolling for the “lolz” to trolling for the “lulz”.

RIP trolls

Individuals often grieve the loss of family members and close friends through social media and other online platforms. However, online grieving allows strangers to make themselves a part of the grieving process; in fact, some individuals deliberately post inflammatory messages on memorial pages in order to incite an angry response (Marwick and Ellison, 2012). These individuals posting offensive, harassing comments on online memorial pages are known as RIP trolls or memorial page trolls. One such instance was observed in the case of Natasha MacBryde, whose memorial page was trolled with “sick images” after she committed suicide (Hale, 2011). Similarly, in 2013, the memorial page created for Matthew Kocher on Facebook was covered with images and posts mocking him after he drowned in Lake Michigan. The family members were disturbed to find harsh images and comments, such as “you fail as being a fish”, aimed at teasing the departed (Pratt, 2013).

RIP trolls are often linked to grief tourists; however, the differentiating factor between is that grief tourists tend to leave positive messages rather than hurtful ones (Frost, 2014). Similar to trolls, grief tourists do not know the departed; however, grief tourists exhibit a sense of loss and feel a shared connection with those grieving (Crowe and Watts, 2013; Phillip, 2011b). As Frost (2014) explains, “if grief tourists are walking around a graveyard, they wonder about the fate of the deceased, while a RIP troll is more like a person who physically desecrates a gravesite” [5]. However, this behavior could be a motivating factor for individuals who RIP troll, as they potentially see a way to mock the inauthenticity displayed by grief tourists, rather than those genuinely mourning (Leaver, 2013).

Therefore, some RIP trolls specifically target grief tourists and are philosophically motived to point out this “inauthentic grief” — these RIP trolls claim that those with “no real-life connection to the victim could not possibly be in mourning” [6]. In one interview, a troll stated, “This isn’t grief. This is boredom and a pathological need for attention masquerading as grief” [7]. RIP trolls who target grief tourists will even go so far as to create fake memorial pages; that is to say, memorial pages for people who have never existed in order bait grief tourists (Phillips, 2011b). However, not all RIP trolls only target grief tourists; there are some trolls that do target legitimate memorial pages.

According to Statista (2014), 23 percent of respondents saw Internet trolling on emotional topics, such as those dealing with a traumatic experience or death. According to Phillips (2011b), individuals engaging in RIP trolling enjoy the attention received from the media, and they claim to feel no remorse “no matter how traumatizing their behaviors” [8]. In addition, many trolls find “real” RIP trolling either boring or distasteful in that authentically grieving family members are not “proper” targets (Phillips, 2011b). Still, there are some trolls who do target legitimate memorial pages; however, limited research exists on the personality characteristics of individuals who engage in trolling, even more specifically “real” RIP trolls.

Individual differences

Currently, the empirical literature suggests individual differences are relevant in our understanding of individuals who engage in different forms of electronic harassment, such as cyberbullying and trolling. Specifically, a number of researchers have examined the relationship between individual differences and cyberbullying; for instance, high neuroticism (Çelik, et al., 2012; Ojedokun and Idemudia, 2013; Seigfried-Spellar and Treadway, 2014; Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar, 2016) and low agreeableness (Çelik, et al., 2012; Festl and Quandt, 2013; Seigfried-Spellar and Treadway, 2014; Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar, 2016) are consistently found in the literature to be correlated to cyberbullying behaviors. A few studies also suggest cyberbullies score significantly lower on conscientiousness compared to non-cyberbullies (Çelik, et al., 2012; Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar, 2016), and Gibb and Devereux (2014) found Machiavellianism and psychopathy to be significant predictors of cyberbullying. However, findings regarding level of self-esteem are inconsistent; Patchin and Hinduja (2010) found low self-esteem whereas Corcoran, et al. (2012) found high self-esteem to be a significant predictor of cyberbullying.

With regards to trolling, a smaller number of research studies have explored the personality characteristics of individuals who engage in trolling. For instance, Buckels, et al. (2014) examined whether the dark tetrad (narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism) predicted trolling. The results suggested trolling was positively correlated with psychopathy, sadism, and Machiavellianism, and among these factors, the best predictor for trolling was sadism. According to Buckels, et al. (2014), “both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others” [9]. In addition, after conducting an in-depth interview of a flame troller, Bishop (2013) suggested similarities between the DSM-V’s criteria for anti-social personality disorder (ASPD) and flame trolling activities.

Current study

Overall, individual differences are relevant to our understanding of why certain individuals engage in trolling behaviors, and as previously mentioned, it is suggested that only a small number of trolls engage in “real” RIP trolling by targeting authentic memorial pages. Thus, we believe individual differences exist between the trolls themselves since not all trolls engage in the same activities; this may also be due to the fact that some of the behaviors are arguably more emotionally devastating and harmful to the victims (e.g., real RIP trolling), suggesting that moral differences may play a role.

Thus, the goal of the current study was to determine if personality and morality characteristics differentiated RIP trolls from trolls who do not engage in RIP trolling. This study contributes to the body of literature by empirically exploring whether individual differences exist between non-RIP trolls and RIP trolls. Based on the previous literature, the authors expected to find significant differences between RIP trolls and non-RIP trolls on individual differences.

 

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Method

Participants

Respondents were solicited from the Amazon Web site, Mechanical Turk; the respondents answered questions regarding their engagement in a variety of trolling behaviors (e.g., flaming, RIP trolling, outing). For the current study, we were only interested in those respondents who were identified as Internet trolls. Of the original 308 respondents, 149 (48 percent) respondents self-reported engaging in Internet trolling; Of the 149 Internet trolls, 30 (20 percent) self-reported engaging in RIP trolling. For the overall sample, 63 (42.3 percent) were men and 86 (57.7 percent) were women; the majority of the respondents were white (n = 109, 73.2 percent), and their ages ranged from 19 to 64 years (M = 32.4, SD = 10.6).

Measures

Respondents completed the following questionnaires: demographics, Cyberbully/Troll Deviancy Scale (CTDS; Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar, 2016), Five-Factor Model Rating Form (FFMRF; see Widiger, 2004), Moral Decision-Making Scale (MDKS; Rogers, et al., 2006a), and Rosenberg’s Self Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965). These scales have been previously validated in the area of personality research and deviant online behavior (Rogers, 2001; Rogers, et al., 2006a; Rogers, et al., 2006b; Seigfried-Spellar, et al., 2014; Seigfried-Spellar and Treadway, 2014; Seigfried-Spellar, et al., 2017; Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar, 2016). The demographics survey appeared at the beginning of the study for all of the respondents to increase the accuracy of self-reported subject variables (e.g., sex; see Birnbaum, 2000).

Cyberbullying/Troll Deviance Scale. Respondents completed 13 questions from the Cyberbully/Troll Deviancy Scale (CTDS; Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar, 2016) measuring a variety of trolling behaviors, including one question assessing RIP trolling. The CTDS asks respondents whether or not they have engaged in 13 different types of trolling behaviors, such as RIP trolling, flaming, and outing; this scale does not include the word — “troll”. In the CTDS, the following statement preceded the trolling items: “For the following online activities, how often in the past five years have you engaged in them with someone that you do not know” (i.e., a stranger online)? To identify trolls, we focused on those individuals who targeted strangers online “just for the fun of it”, which is why each item included “with someone that you do not know/a stranger”.

The 13 trolling items specifically measured the frequency of the trolling behavior; they were scaled from 1 (Never) to 5 (six or more times). A sample item was: “Used profanity or insulting language towards a stranger online (just because)?” For the current study, only those individuals who self-reported trolling behaviors were included; that is to say, any respondent who self-reported engaging in any of the 13 behaviors was included in the final analyses. Next, we labeled those respondents as RIP trolls based on their endorsement of the following item: “Visited a Facebook/website memorial page for a deceased person that you did not know and made negative comments (just because)?” Therefore, based on item endorsement, we created a binary variable: individuals who engaged in RIP trolling vs. individuals who did not engage in RIP trolling, but did engage in other trolling behaviors.

Five-Factor Model Rating Form. The Five-Factor Model Rating Form (FFMRF; Widiger, 2004) measured the respondents’ individual differences based on the Big 5 personality characteristics: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. The FFMRF displays 30 polar opposites on a Likert scale of 1 (Extremely Low) to 5 (Extremely High). In the current study, the FFMRF yielded acceptable Cronbach’s alpha levels for all five factors: Neuroticism (α = .78), Extraversion (α = .77), Openness to Experience (α = .72), Agreeableness (α = .80), and Conscientiousness (α = .83).

Moral Decision-Making Scale. The Moral Decision-Making Scale (MDKS; Rogers, et al., 2006b) measured the respondents’ cognitive disposition when making moral decisions according to three subscales: Social Moral Values (i.e., attitudes toward the law; SV), Internal Moral Values (i.e., personal moral compass; IV), and/or Hedonistic Moral Values (i.e., pleasure-seeking; HED). The MDKS included 15 items, scaled from 1 (Not Important in my Decisions) to 7 (Very Important in my Decisions). In the current study, the MDKS yielded acceptable Cronbach’s alpha levels for the moral decision-making subscales: Internal Moral Values (α = .78) and Hedonistic Moral Values (α = .74); however, the Cronbach’s α for the Social Moral Values subscale was lower at .63.

Self-Esteem Scale. Finally, the authors measured the respondents’ level of self-esteem with the Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965). Using a five-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly Agree; 5 = Strongly Disagree), the participants self-reported their level of agreement to 10 statements. The Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale yielded an excellent Cronbach’s alpha (α) score of .92 for self-esteem variable.

Procedures

The respondents were recruited from an Internet-based study hosted on Qualtrics via Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Mechanical Turk may be used to obtain high-quality data inexpensively and provides better generalizability compared to other methodologies (Arditte, et al., 2016; Behrend, et al., 2011; Berinsky, et al., 2011; Buhrmester, et al., 2011; Johnson and Borden, 2012; Miller, et al., 2017). In addition, prior research suggests the use of MTurk data is valid and reliable (see Goodman, et al., 2013; Shapiro, et al., 2013), even for personality research (Miller, et al., 2017). Respondents were compensated 10 U.S. cents using Amazon’s anonymous and secure compensation procedures and the study was advertised as assessing “Attitudes Toward Online Communications.” The survey was completely anonymous in that no identifying information was collected (e.g., name, IP address). In order to qualify, the respondents had to be at least 19 years of age or older and permanent residents of the United States. Once completed, the respondents were provided with a “code word” in order to receive compensation, and the code word was changed daily. Finally, the Qualtrics software allowed the authors to prevent ballot box stuffing and the “back button” was disabled so respondents could not change their responses at any time.

Analytic strategies

First, the current study only included those respondents who self-reported engaging in some form of trolling behavior (e.g., flaming, outing, RIP). Next, the authors specifically examined which individuals admitted to RIP trolling. Based on item endorsement, a dichotomous variable was created: non-RIP troll (0) and RIP troll (1). This binary outcome variable represented two different groups: individuals who engaged in RIP trolling vs. individuals who did not engage in RIP trolling, but did engage in other trolling behaviors. Finally, all variables assessing individual differences (e.g., extraversion, self-esteem) were treated as continuous, predictor variables.

In order to determine the relationship between individual differences and RIP trolls vs. non-RIP trolls, a point-biserial zero-order correlation was conducted; the point-biserial correlation (rpb) is used to represent the relationship between a continuous and dichotomous variable (see Cohen, et al., 2003). Next, the statistically significant personality traits from the zero-order correlation were entered into a backward stepwise (Wald) binary logistic regression (LR) to determine the best model for differentiating between RIP trolls vs. non-RIP trolls. Binary logistic regressions allow researchers to develop a parsimonious model that describes the relationship between an outcome and its predictors (see Hosmer, et al., 2013); a binary logistic regression always has a dichotomous outcome variable (,i.e.,, RIP troll vs. non-RIP troll).

 

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Results

Hypothesis testing

H1: There are individual differences between RIP trolls and non-RIP trolls.

As shown in Table 1, a listwise zero-order correlation explored the relationship between RIP trolling vs. non-RIP trolling and the personality characteristics. Of the 149 trolls, only 142 were included in the final statistical analyses due to missing data on the self-esteem variable. The zero-order correlation revealed a significant relationship between RIP trolls and low conscientiousness (rpb = -.29, p = .001), low internal moral values (rpb = -.45, p < .001), and low hedonism (rpb = -.26, p = .002) compared to non-RIP trolls; there was also a marginally significant relationship between RIP trolls and low self-esteem (rpb = -.14, p = .09) and high neuroticism (rpb = .16, p = .06). There was no statistically significant relationship between RIP trolls vs. non-RIP trolls and the following variables: extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and social moral values.

 

Table 1: Zero-order correlations between personality, self-esteem, and non-RIP troll vs. RIP-troll.
 RIPNEOACSVIVHVSE
RIP10.150.09-0.110.01-0.29-0.06-0.45-0.26-0.14
N 1-0.240.010.003-0.32-0.07-0.210.07-0.56
E  10.06-0.002-0.1850.140.09-0.130.37
O   10.12-0.16-0.290.260.06-0.07
A    1-0.010.310.190.03-0.01
C     10.080.190.090.14
SV      10.330.400.12
IV       10.450.16
HV        1-0.09
SE         1
Note: Correlations above |.14| are statistically significant at p < .10; correlations above |.16| are statistically significant at p < .05; correlations above |.22| are statistically significant at p < .01; correlations above |.27| are statistically significant at p < .001.

 

Next, the statistically significant variables identified in the zero-order correlation were entered into a backward stepwise (Wald) binary logistic regression to identify the best predictive model for RIP trolling vs. non-RIP trolling. As shown in Table 2, the final model included conscientiousness (Wald = 6.79, p < .01) and internal moral values (Wald = 18.75, p < .001) in that individuals who scored low on conscientiousness and low on internal moral values were more likely to be RIP trolls compared to non-RIP trolls. The odds ratio, Exp(B), in Table 2 is a standardized measure of the change in odds as a result of a unit change in the predictor [10].

 

Table 2: Backward stepwise (Wald) binary logistic regression.
VariableBSE BExp (B)
Step 1   
N-0.200.530.82
SE-0.550.410.58
C-1.10*0.430.33
IV-1.20**0.340.30
HED-0.300.310.74
Step 2   
SE-0.470.350.62
C-1.04*0.400.35
IV-1.18**0.330.31
HED-0.320.300.73
Step 3   
SE-0.410.340.66
C-1.05*0.390.35
IV-1.33**0.310.26
Step 4   
C-1.02*0.390.36
IV-1.34**0.310.26
Note: **p < 0.001; *p < 0.01. R2 = .28 (Hosmer & Lemeshow); .23 (Cox & Snell); .38 (Nagelkirke).

 

Using the reciprocal of the odds ratio, as the score on conscientiousness increases, an individual is 2.8x more likely to be a non-RIP troll. In addition, as the score on internal values increases, an individual is 3.8x more likely to be a non-RIP troll. The Hosmer and Lemeshow’s Measure (RL2) suggested this model explained 28 percent of the variance in RIP trolls vs. non-RIP trolls (RC2 = .23; RN2 = .38). Finally, the Hosmer and Lemeshow test was non-significant, Χ2(8) = 10.68, p = .22, indicating the final model fit the data.

 

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Discussion and conclusions

To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to assess the relationship between individual differences between RIP trolls and trolls who do not engage in RIP trolling. The majority of trolls in the current study did not engage in RIP trolling behavior; however, real RIP trolling may be more common than previously expected. Although Philips (2011b) suggested real RIP trolling is considered “distasteful” and “not proper targets” by many trolls, the current study found 20 percent of self-reported trolls engaged in real RIP trolling. In addition, the authors’ hypothesis was supported in that individual differences exist between RIP trolls and non-RIP trolls; specifically, the results suggested personality and morality differences, which supports our inclination as to why not all trolls engage in the same behaviors. The final predictive model, which included low conscientiousness and low internal moral values, suggests individuals who engage in real RIP trolling are different from other Internet trolls.

According to Phillips (2011b), individuals who troll memorial pages feel no remorse for the pain caused to grieving family members; this lack of remorse is consistent with individuals who exhibit low conscientiousness and report no personal moral code. Conscientiousness is defined as “the tendency to follow socially prescribed norms for impulse control, to be goal directed, to plan, and to be able to delay gratification” [11]. Low conscientiousness is associated with impulsiveness, unreliability, inability to delay gratification, lack of perseverance, and aggressiveness (Miller and Lynam, 2003; Sharpe and Desai, 2001). Conscientiousness also affects an individual’s ability to think, feel, and behave consistently across situations and is characterized by order and dependability (John and Srivastava, 1999).

In addition, conscientiousness is strongly associated with life satisfaction (Hayes and Joseph, 2003) and understanding subjective well-being (Hayes and Joseph, 2003); therefore, individuals who RIP troll may experience more feelings of dissatisfaction towards life compared to non-RIP trolls, which is why they mock those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Finally, low conscientiousness is also significantly correlated to the personality disorder, psychopathy (Miller and Lynam, 2003). Psychopathy is a multi-dimensional construct associated with callousness, egocentricity, dishonesty, impulsivity, and irresponsibility (Lynam and Miller, 2015; Miller, et al., 2001). The Buckels, et al. (2014) study found trolls scored significantly higher on psychopathy than non-trolls, so our results are consistent in that low conscientiousness is related to trolling, and in fact, discriminates between RIP trolls and non-trolls.

As with conscientiousness, RIP trolls scored significantly lower on hedonism compared to non-RIP trolls. Essentially, RIP trolls are less likely to make moral decisions based on hedonistic principles of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. The items measuring hedonism in the moral decision-making scale assess whether individuals are likely to make decisions that maximize their self-pleasure but also minimize the likelihood that they will be punished for their actions (Rogers, et al., 2006a). Thus, RIP trolls are less concerned with making moral decisions that increase pleasure but also decrease pain or the likelihood of punishment. In addition, the MDKS hedonism items may be correlated with the present hedonistic attitude (see Stolarski, et al., 2015; Zimbardo and Boyd, 2008) in that individuals are more concerned with immediate gratification regardless of the consequences or the possibility of greater gains in the future. Looking at the conscientiousness and hedonism together, these finding also appear consistent since impulsivity is negatively correlated with conscientiousness (see Miller and Lynam, 2003).

Although it was not part of the final model, there was a marginally significant relationship between low self-esteem and high neuroticism for self-reported RIP trolls. Neuroticism is a personality trait characteristic of emotional instability (John and Srivastava, 1999). Research has shown individuals scoring high on neuroticism tend to show more aggressive behavior (Barlett and Anderson, 2012; Sharpe and Desai, 2001) and aggressive emotions (Barlett and Anderson, 2012). Posting obscene comments on the memorial pages of deceased loved ones is definitely an aggressive form of electronic communication, and this finding suggests it may be an aggressive emotional outlet for RIP trolls. Finally, RIP trolls scored significantly lower on self-esteem compared to non-RIP trolls; previous research suggests low self-esteem is related to antisocial behavior and delinquency (Donnellan, et al., 2005), including another form of electronic harassment, cyberbullying (Hinduja and Patchin, 2010).

According to Buckels, et al. (2013), sadism is a predictor of “an appetite for cruelty” [12] and unproved aggression; when assessing trolling behaviors, Buckels, et al. (2014) found sadism was the best predictor of trolling when assessed with the dark triad (i.e., narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism). In addition, trolls perform their actions to gain pleasure from the pain of individuals for their own amusement (Bishop, 2014; Hardaker, 2010). Overall, the personality traits of conscientiousness and agreeableness are also significantly related to sadism (Furnham, et al., 2013); Zezulka and Seigfried-Spellar (2016) found Internet trolls scored significantly lower on agreeableness compared to non-trolls, so although there was no difference in agreeableness between RIP trolls and non-RIP trolls, the fact that RIP trolls scored lower on conscientiousness may suggest that they are more sadistic when compared to other trolls.

Although the current study reveals differences between RIP trolls and non-RIP trolls, further empirical research is needed to better understand the individual differences between RIP trolls, non-RIP trolls, and individuals who do not engage in any trolling behaviors. Future research should explore the differences between RIP trolls and non-RIP trolls on sadism and the dark triad (see Furnham, et al., 2013), as well as explore other motivational factors and moral disengagement techniques for memorial page trolls. In addition, future research should explore the relationship between the different forms of Internet trolling to determine if one form of trolling is more likely to lead to another form and to better understand the shift from classical trolling (i.e., lolz) to trolling for the lulz. Memorial page trolling, or RIP trolling, causes emotional harm and distress to the family members grieving the loss of loved ones online, so understanding how and why someone becomes a RIP troll is an important research question to pursue.

Overall, the current study examined whether individual differences exist between RIP trolls and non-RIP trolls. As mentioned previously, not all trolls target authentic memorial pages (Phillips, 2011b), and for those who do, the behavior is emotionally devastating to the family members grieving deceased loved ones online. Contrary to what some researchers may suggest (see Cheng, et al., 2017), simply posting an obscene or profane comment online does not necessarily make you a troll — the act of trolling is more complex and includes a wide range of behaviors and motivations (e.g., trolling for the lolz vs. lulz). As this research shows, not all trolls engage in memorial page trolling, and the ones that do have significant differences on personality and morality measures. Thus, not only are there individual differences between trolls and non-trolls (see Buckels, et al., 2014), but this study suggests that trolls are not a homogenous group, further supporting the need for future research to explore individual differences within the trolling community. By understanding the personality and morality differences between trolls and non-trolls, we may be able to identify those individuals at risk for engaging in RIP trolling or other forms of online harassment. End of article

 

About the authors

Dr. Kathryn C. Seigfried-Spellar is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Information Technology at Purdue University. She studies the individual differences and socio-legal factors associated with cyberdeviance, such as Internet child pornography use, hacking, cyberbullying, and trolling. She is a member of the Digital and Multimedia Sciences section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), American Psychology-Law Society (APLS), and the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA). .
Direct comments to: kspellar [at] purdue [dot] edu

Siddharth S. Chowdhury is currently a Master’s student in the Department of Computer Information and Technology at Purdue University with a concentration in cyberforensics. In December 2016, he completed his Bachelor of Science degree at Purdue in computer and information technology with a minor in psychology. Through his undergraduate degree, Sid has worked with faculty on research topics including Wi-Fi hacking, hacker personalities, and legal considerations of digital forensics.
E-mail: sidc [at] purdue [dot] edu

 

Notes

1. Phillips, 2011a, p. 69.

2. Hardaker, 2010, p. 237.

3. Fragoso, 2015, p. 152.

4. Paul, et al., 2015, p. 244.

5. Frost, 2014, p. 261.

6. Phillips, 2011b, p. 7.

7. Ibid.

8. Phillips, 2011b, p. 7.

9. Buckels, et al., 2014, p. 102.

10. Since the odds ratio is less than one, we use the reciprocal of the odds ratio in order to ease its interpretation (Davies, et al., 1998; McHugh, 2009). In this case, the reciprocal indicates the likelihood of an individual being a non-RIP troll (instead of a RIP troll) based on the predictors.

11. Roberts, et al., 2009, p. 369.

12. Buckels, et al., 2013, p. 2,201.

 

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Editorial history

Received 25 April 2017; revised 19 June 2017; revised 21 September 2017; accepted 5 October 2017.


Copyright © 2017, Kathryn C. Seigfried-Spellar and Siddharth S. Chowdhury.

Death and Lulz: Understanding the personality characteristics of RIP trolls
by Kathryn C. Seigfried-Spellar and Siddharth S. Chowdhury.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 11 - 6 November 2017
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/7861/6556
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i111.7861





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