If you've spent any sort of time on social media, you'll have no doubt encountered a troll. People whose sole existence seems to be to annoy and wind-up other users.
A recent study from researchers at Brunel University London and Goldsmiths, University of London suggests that narcissism is at the heart of trolling, with male members more likely to display such characteristics than female members.
The study found that men were more likely to use social media in an antisocial way than women, who were more inclined to use Facebook et al for prosocial activities, with women obtaining a strong sense of belonging and connectedness from the communities they participated in.
"The link between narcissism and stronger antisocial Facebook use might be connected with the general tendency of narcissists to hold extremely positive opinions of themselves which may alienate others," the research team explain. "By posting self-promoting content on Facebook, narcissists may seek to cultivate an online profile which attracts admiration and views but ultimately isn't really concerned with pro-social outcomes."
Indeed, it's often when other members don't share the inflated opinion of the narcissist that troll-like behavior emerges, as it's a crude attempt to gain attention.
The findings emerged after an analysis of several hundred social media users. Each participant rated themselves on a 13-point narcissistic personality scale, before also rating themselves on a relational self-construal scale. They were also quizzed as to their social media habits and usage patterns.
How to spot a troll
So how might you be able to spot a troll in your community? The researchers suggest a number of common characteristics are likely to give them away (aside from being very annoying):
- A lot of their content will be self-promotional
- They will often post frequently, with those updates including brags about their achievements
- The more often they post however, the less likely they are to receive the validation they crave
- They get frustrated when contacts don't comment or like their content
- They get very angry against negative comments
They go onto suggest that changing how men perceive status within the community might help to reduce their perceived need to troll.
"Encouraging self-definition interdependently with others could help decrease trolling behaviour and encourage people to use Facebook in a more socially constructive and harmonious way. This will help meet the fundamental need for belonging and the maintenance of relationships while making Facebook a safer place for all its users," they say.
For some practical advice on how to handle trolls, I asked the folk at Ning, the largest software as a service social network provider in the world, for some practical tips.
"According to our observations, trolls may decrease overall audience involvement by up to 50%. Instead of constructive conversation, half of the audience are silenced by the trolls, with the other half actively fighting them," they told me.
They believe the best way for community managers to stop trolls in their tracks is to:
- Monitor - nip in the bud any bullying behavior by constant skimming through your activity feed and profiles of recently added members.
- Talk - one public message from the community manager may calm down the troll. Nearly half of them feel that they are constantly watched online and that the web is not a place for indecent behavior anymore.
- Take measures - if the previous steps didn't help, you have no other recourse than to ban the troll. You may start from not approving their posts before finally banning them from the community. Ning aim to provide tools to perform bans on a range of levels and even banning options for email providers and IP addresses.