Researchers Natalie Sest and Evita March predicted trolling from gender and personality in a new study. The study, published in December's edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found that men "were more likely than women to engage in trolling."
The study defined trolling as "the deliberate provocation of others using deception and harmful behaviour on the internet, which often results in conflict, highly emotional reactions and disruption of communication in order to advance the troll's own amusement."
"Higher levels of trait psychopathy and sadism predicted trolling behavior," the researchers said. "Trolls employ an empathic strategy of predicting and recognizing the emotional suffering of their victims, while abstaining from the experiences of these negative emotions. Thus, trolls appear to be master manipulators of both cyber-settings and their victims' emotions."
For the study, 415 participants with a median age of about 23 completed an online questionnaire. About 36 percent of the participants were men, 63 percent were women, with 1 percent answering "other."
Some feminists argue that calling rude, harassing people online "trolls" inadvertently encourages them to continue this behavior by demoting them to something non-human.
"It's a lot like the ‘boys will be boys' mentality that helps to keep rape culture thriving, but it's also different, because boys are expected to be human," writes Make Me A Sammich, a feminist blog. "By calling these people ‘trolls,' we relegate them to non-human status, and we make it clear that we don't expect them to live up to the same behavioral standards as human beings," the blogger observed.
Women troll, too, of course. One Twitter user's masterful troll of a man trying to mansplain something to her — a style of patronizing address commonly attributed to male chauvinism — went viral last year and the "trolling" behavior was reported by news outlets including BuzzFeed as a badge of honor.