TWITTER users are being warned to beware what they post online after a study showed that other social media users with dark sides to their personalities could victimise them.

The analysis from a team led by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) revealed that many people with Dark Tetrad personality traits, such as psychopathy, narcissism, sadism or Machiavellianism, have little or no sympathy for people who are badly abused online.

It involved 125 regular Twitter users aged 18-43 from around the world and found a quarter scored high with the characteristics – traits of psychology, commonly known as the Dark Tetrad, describing people who have a tendency to be callous and exploitative.

GCU cyberpsychologist Dr Chris Hand, who led the study, said: “No-one showed 100% total victim blame, and no-one showed 100% that they didn’t realise the abuse was in some way serious; however, the proportion of people who scored really high on victim blame and really low on perceived severity were similar to the above Dark Tetrad data.

“Victim Blame was far greatest if the victim posted something negative; the Perceived Severity was lowest when the victim had tweeted something negative and had received a small amount of abuse, whereas the abuse was seen as most severe if the victim had posted something positive and received lots of abuse. There were still plenty of responses that were unsympathetic in all conditions though. Twitter is a bit more open to stranger abuse, rather than teasing or banter between established real-life acquaintances ... This research is really novel because, for the first time, we’ve added the Dark Tetrad analysis to it. This study also shows how important what the victim says in the beginning is, as well as what the abuse looks like.”

The research also involved experts Dr Graham Scott and Dr Zara Brodie, from the University of the West of Scotland, and Dr Sara C Sereno and student Xilei Yi, from the University of Glasgow.

All participants were frequent Twitter users, and 84 were women. The “victims” were young white men in their early 20s with ordinary faces to keep them as typical as possible. Researchers took real tweets and generated the stimuli.

Hand added: “Another interesting thing we found was that people realise the abuse is serious although they still blame the victim for it happening. It is the classic case of ‘yes that’s bad, but they should never have put the tweet up in the first place’ – even if the abuse was really horrible, like ‘why don’t you just go and kill yourself’. So I would advise Twitter users to be careful what you tweet because if you say something provocative you’re not going to get any sympathy if you then get abused.”