Can (Should) Social Media Be Used to Identify Psychopaths?
2012-07-25 0:00

By Kashmir Hill |

People’s nasty traits have a way of revealing themselves on social networks: in writing. Or rather in how they write. That means an analysis of how someone tweets could reveal whether he or she is narcissistic, Machiavellian, or psychopathic, according to researchers who plan to present their findings at DefCon next week.

What are some of the Twitter stylings of these undesirables? Curse words. Angry responses to other people, including swearing and use of the word “hate.” Using the word “we.” Using periods. Using filler words such as “blah” and “I mean” and “um.”

(I suspect that an analysis of the Twitter streams of many a blogger would suggest they are potentially a narcissist, a psychopath or an avid reader of “The Prince.” Which may well be an accurate assessment.)

“The FBI could use this to flag potential wrongdoers, but I think it’s much more compelling for psychologists to use to understand large communities of people,” says Chris Sumner of the Online Privacy Foundation, which collaborated with Florida Atlantic University and big-data competition site Kaggle to conduct the study. He imagines the algorithmic models his team developed could be used to compare character traits between different countries based on Twitter.

The study came about as a response to a paper published by Cornell researchers last year who had studied the writings of clinical psychopaths and found discernible patterns.

“It led to a lot of sensational headlines,” says Sumner. “The next obvious stage was the application of the study to people’s social media usage.”

One of the articles to come out was: “Can twitter help expose psychopath killers’ traits?

Sumner wanted to find out whether that was actually a possibility. As you may imagine, based on his organization’s name, he’s concerned about the intrusion on privacy posed by developments like this and the impact they will have on people’s enjoyment of the Internet. Klout, which rates Twitter users’ influence, gave rise to Klouchebag, which rates their, um, “klouchiness.” This study could theoretically give rise to a “Klychopath” rating. Talking to him, I got the sense that he hoped the study would disprove the usefulness of this type of analysis. But that didn’t turn out to be the case.

The research team recruited regular Twitter users to take part in the study. Those efforts were helped by British actor/comedian Stephen Fry and skateboarder Tony Hawk who each tweeted about it, and sent users to, where participants took a personality test which rated them from 1-5 for eight traits, including the “dark triad: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism,” says Sumner. Over 3,000 users then allowed their public tweets to be downloaded for study — Incentive: one lucky participant won an iPad — and over 2,900 of those were put into a data-set that the Online Privacy Foundation turned over to Kaggle users to work their big data magic on. Of the 2,900, about 41 users were certifiable, i.e., rated high for all of the nasty traits. Everyone else fell in a spectrum. (We all have these traits, to a greater or lesser extent.)

To determine their degree of darkness, participants were asked to say whether they agreed with statements like these:


Payback needs to be quick and nasty.
I like to pick on losers.


I have been compared to famous people.
I insist on getting the respect I deserve.


You should wait for the right time to get back at people.
Most people are suckers.


“Just because someone scores highly doesn’t mean they’re criminally minded,” says Sumner. “Using this to try to spot someone who’s going to commit a crime is going to result in catching people who aren’t going to. But in general it’s interesting. You can use it to look at large groups of people and ask are we becoming more antisocial?”

“We do realize that in the future it might be used,” he says, pointing to some programs — not necessarily involving social media — that are already in place to predict crimes, including Florida’s use of IBM technology to predict whether juvenile delinquents will offend again. “Our default position is that it’s a bad thing.”


Read the full article at:

Also tune into Red Ice Radio:

Thomas Sheridan - The Labyrinth of the Psychopath & The Intraspecies Predators

Mike Cross - Hour 1 - Philosophy of a Psychopathic Society

Rauni-Leena Luukanen-Kilde - Depopulation, Mind Control & Out-Of-Body Experiences

Mike Cross - Hour 2 - Template of Conformity & The Psychopath’s Utopia

Kevin P Miller - Generation Rx, SSRI’s & Happy Pills

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