Expressing unpopular opinion or trolling: Can dark personalities differentiate them?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study, we want to conceptually and empirically distinguish those who deliberately seek to create division in an online forum by inauthentically voicing an anti-majority opinion—a specific type of “online trolls,” from the vocal minorities—those who speak out against the majority to express their unpopular viewpoint. 599 participants recruited from Amazon MTurk completed an online experiment. They were randomly assigned to post a comment after reading a series of either all positive or all negative reviews of a branded product. We coded participants’ comments based on their preexisting attitude towards the product brand and grouped the participants into five behavioral types: 1) vocal and silent (normative) majorities (n = 235), 2) silent minorities (n = 75), 3) social conformers (n = 117), 4) vocal minorities (n = 95), and 5) “online trolls” (n = 46). Both vocal minorities and “online trolls” explicitly expressed opposition to the majority opinion, but the “trolls” spoke out against the majority opinion against their own beliefs. Based on past research, we identified Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism as the set of personality markers that might differentiate the trolls from the vocal minorities. Our results were mixed. As expected, the “online trolls’ scored the highest on psychopathy and sadism among all the behavioral types. However, the trolls were not distinguishable from the vocal minorities on the psychopathy trait. This study extends the existing literature on linking personality traits to technology-mediated social behavior. It also informs social research on online trolling and cyberactivism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101645
JournalTelematics and Informatics
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Machiavellianism
  • Online trolling
  • Psychopathy
  • Sadism
  • Vocal minority

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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