Jerks of the Web

Jerks of the Web
Scammers, stalkers, online antagonists ready to pick a fight, folks who are just plain mean--what is it about the Web that turns people into jerks?

One expert says the anonymity of the Web makes everyone behave as if they were in Palm Beach in April. "Think about spring break, when people are feeling anonymous and acting in ways they wouldn't in their hometown, where they run into their neighbor," says Nicole Ellison, assistant professor of telecommunications, information studies, and media at Michigan State University. "People are less inhibited, and they then will engage in things they would want to do all the time but wouldn't normally because it would be frowned upon in their social circles."

A New York University study found that subjects were more likely to express their true selves on the Net rather than in face-to-face interaction. If that's the case, the stories we've collected here may make you despair for the state of humanity. Meet just a few of the Web's aggravating trolls and irritating idiots.

Legally Rude

You can understand a lawyer's being brusque with opposing counsel on a tough case. But to be obnoxious to a man offering you a job? That's what one applicant at a law firm in Boston did in 2006.

Dianna Abdala, a young attorney, had been offered a position at the firm, but the job didn't come with the salary and benefits she was expecting. Just before her start date, Abdala e-mailed the lawyer who had made the offer, William Korman, and declined it. The subsequent e-mail exchange degenerated to such a shocking extent that the entire thread made its way to inboxes around the country and eventually ended up in the hands of ABC's Nightline--which published the messages for all to see:

Abdala:

Dear Attorney Korman,

At this time, I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer.

After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sow.

Thank you for the interviews.

Korman:

Dianna --

Given that you had two interviews, were offered and accepted the job (indeed, you had a definite start date), I am surprised that you chose an e-mail and a 9:30 PM voicemail message to convey this information to me. It smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional. Indeed, I did rely upon your acceptance by ordering stationary [sic] and business cards with your name, reformatting a computer and setting up both internal and external e-mails for you here at the office. While I do not quarrel with your reasoning, I am extremely disappointed in the way this played out. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Abdala:

A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance until he did so.

Again, thank you.

Korman:

Thank you for the refresher course on contracts. This is not a bar exam question. You need to realize that this is a very small legal community, especially the criminal defense bar. Do you really want to start pissing off more experienced lawyers at this early stage of your career?

Abdala:

bla bla bla

Such flame wars tend to get out of hand on message boards or via e-mail simply because the parties involved are online, where they can see no visual cues (such as a red face) indicating anger or other emotions. As a result, people have trouble determining how their actions are affecting others. The next time you're getting ready to shoot off an irate note, think about how you'd feel if the missive ended up broadcast to a few million strangers.

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