The sociopaths who are internet trolls

“’Fail at life. Go bomb yourself,” according to the

“Comments like this one, found on a CNN article about how women perceive themselves, are prevalent today across the internet, whether it’s Facebook, Reddit or a news website. Such behavior can range from profanity and name-calling to personal attacks, sexual harassment or hate speech.

“A recent Pew Internet Survey found that four out of 10 people online have been harassed online, with far more having witnessed such behavior. Trolling has become so rampant that several websites have even resorted to completely removing comments.

“Many believe that trolling is done by a small, vocal minority of sociopathic individuals. This belief has been reinforced not only in the media, but also in past research on trolling, which focused on interviewing these individuals. Some studies even showed that trolls have predisposing personal and biological traits, such as sadism and a propensity to seek excessive stimulation.

“But what if all trolls aren’t born trolls? What if they are ordinary people like you and me? In our research, we found that people can be influenced to troll others under the right circumstances in an online community. By analyzing 16 million comments made on and conducting an online controlled experiment, we identified two key factors that can lead ordinary people to troll.

“What makes a troll?

“We recruited 667 participants through an online crowdsourcing platform and asked them to first take a quiz, then read an article and engage in discussion. Every participant saw the same article, but some were given a discussion that had started with comments by trolls, where others saw neutral comments instead. Here, trolling was defined using standard community guidelines – for example, name-calling, profanity, racism or harassment. The quiz given beforehand was also varied to either be easy or difficult.

“Our analysis of comments on helped to verify and extend these experimental observations.

“The first factor that seems to influence trolling is a person’s mood. In our experiment, people put into negative moods were much more likely to start trolling. We also discovered that trolling ebbs and flows with the time of day and day of week, in sync with natural human mood patterns. Trolling is most frequent late at night, and least frequent in the morning. Trolling also peaks on Monday, at the beginning of the work week.

“Moreover, we discovered that a negative mood can persist beyond the events that brought about those feelings. Suppose that a person participates in a discussion where other people wrote troll comments. If that person goes on to participate in an unrelated discussion, they are more likely to troll in that discussion too.

“The second factor is the context of a discussion. If a discussion begins with a ‘troll comment,’ then it is twice as likely to be trolled by other participants later on, compared to a discussion that does not start with a troll comment.

“In fact, these troll comments can add up. The more troll comments in a discussion, the more likely that future participants will also troll the discussion. Altogether, these results show how the initial comments in a discussion set a strong, lasting precedent for later trolling.

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

14 thoughts on “The sociopaths who are internet trolls”

  1. “Trolling is most frequent late at night,” I’ve always suspected another factor related to time; alcohol consumption. We all know the angry drunk with a belly full of liquid courage.

    1. Or consider Todd’s blog, home of what Urban Dictionary would call “sick f****.” But these are real people whom Todd happily hosts. Can’t heed their own advice, though. LOL.

      “Anonymous, December 30, 2017 at 6:52 PM
      Look, Pelline’s son must long to be in a prepie school in the bay area and then off to Cal. Doubt Jeffie will send him to USC. Doubt Pellinskie will move as his alter ego loves to torment non liberals in Nevada County. The more attention Pellinski the more his ego implodes. The best way to deal with him is to ignore him. Treat him as a nonentity which he is and he will dry up and float away.”

      1. And Todd’s response to another one of his “sick ****” commentators, relishing in fat jokes. “Todd Juvinall, December 31, 2017 at 9:58 AM Yhay is some really colorful visual Ralph. LOL! Happey New Year.”

        Who taught Todd how to spell? Small towns are a hoot! ROFLOL.

  2. I’m thousands of miles from home, and these creeps are still obsessed with me on George Rebane’s blog, on New Year’s no less. What must their families think?
    Out of the blue: “IIRC Pelline has a big extended cab pickup that he uses to distribute the glossy pennysaver he gives away and to drive to Trader Joe’s every month to pick up some cases of 2 Buck Chuck white zinfandel… it’s not just for breakfast anymore. It also has the load capacity to haul his ass wherever he wants to go. So, there might be some holes in that theory of automobiles being an indicator of politics.
    Posted by: Gregory | 01 January 2018 at 03:37 PM”
    (BTW, we don’t drink wine from TJ’s; we shop local. Of course, Greg once said he bought his cheese from Costco, so that explains his own shopping patterns. And we hire distributors in Sacramento and Reno to distribute our magazine. We couldn’t do it ourselves). People like Greg must not have much going on. Go figure. ROFLOL. Happy New Year!

  3. “I believe the present state of affairs in the world order are the result of the spontaneously coordinated efforts of fundamental Islam and western socialism’s striving to meet Agenda21 objectives. ” George Rebane.

    One does have to think about the basic sanity of some of the commentators.

  4. Gregory worries me:

    “FYI the last massage from Pelline was posted to his bog on 1 Jan.

    “Consider him missing, presumed fed.

    Posted by: Gregory | 07 January 2018 at 02:53 PM”

    1. And so is George Rebane:
      “Gregory 253pm – That was a bit cold Mr Goodknight 😉

      Posted by: George Rebane | 07 January 2018 at 03:30 PM”

      Hard to believe these people are real.

  5. This is why people move to gated communities:
    “Now, on to the question of the day for Jeff P… can we count on you to buy a $1000 ticket to Hilary Hodge’s fundraiser in … Stockton? Posted by: Gregory | 07 January 2018 at 04:54 PM”


    1. Gregory can’t stop talking about me, even when I’m not around. And George Rebane can’t either . What would Dr. Phil say?

  6. It is strange to be on vacation, away from working at your PC, and notice these oddballs yammer on about you. It’s even a little creepy. Worth a case study for Dr. Phil.

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