Online Trolls: Unaffectionate Psychopaths or Just Lonely Outcasts and Angry Partisans?

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Online Trolls: Unaffectionate Psychopaths or Just Lonely Outcasts and Angry Partisans?

  • Monika Verbalyte Interdisciplinary Center for European Studies, Germany
  • Christoph Keitel Interdisciplinary Center for European Studies, Germany
  • Krista Howard Department of Psychology, Texas State University, USA

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Abstract:  The main objective of the article is to attempt to provide a more sociological explanation of why some people attack and insult others online, i.e., considering not only their personality structure but also social and situational factors. The main theoretical dichotomy we built on is between powerful high‐status and low‐on‐empathy “bullies” trolling others for their own entertainment, and people who are socially isolated, disempowered, or politically involved, therefore feel attacked by others’ beliefs and opinions expressed online, and troll defensively or reactively instead of primarily maliciously. With an MTurk sample of over 1,000 adult respondents from the US, we tested these assumptions. We could confirm that there are two categories and motivations for trolling: for fun and more defensive/reactive. Further, we checked how strongly precarious working conditions, low social status, social isolation, and political as well as religious affiliation of the person increase or decrease the probability of trolling as well as enjoyment levels from this activity. We controlled for personality traits, social media use and patterns, as well as sociodemographic factors. We could confirm that political identities and religiosity increase the likelihood of, but not the enjoyment of trolling; however, socio‐economic factors do not have the same differentiating effect.

Keywords:  negative politics; online deviance; political affiliation; powerlessness; social media; trolling; USA


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© Monika Verbalyte, Christoph Keitel, Krista Howard. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.