Jerks of the Web

Griefers: Going Overboard

What could be more heartwarming than a slew of World of Warcraft players coming out in droves to note the real-world death of one of their virtual comrades? That depends on what happens when a rival guild shows up.

Not long ago, the virtual funeral, held in a common and unprotected area of WoW, was widely advertised by guild members and friends of the deceased. In honor of her death, the gamer's fellow guild members and friends left their weapons behind and gathered to pay their respects. The problem was, the memorial was so well advertised that the event attracted some undesirables. A rival guild committed what is now known as The Great Funeral Massacre--taking out all the weapon-free mourners. Hilarious or horrifying? You can decide for yourself, since the attackers recorded the whole thing and posted it on YouTube.

That's just one example of a phenomenon known as griefing. More like pranksters than evildoers, these Web trolls intentionally disrupt events in online games or communities such as Second Life. Their name says it all: They want simply to cause grief. And the phenomenon is so problematic that game developers have created policies against it--and assembled tips for gamers who may encounter it. Microsoft's "10 Tips for Dealing With Game Cyberbullies and Griefers" states: "Although they are only a small percentage of the video-gaming community, griefers have some gaming companies concerned about losing subscribers. As a result, many game sites and providers are becoming less tolerant of griefers and are employing new methods to police for them and otherwise limit their impact."

Virtual Bullying, Real Suicide

Not all incidents of Web villainy have a humorous side. In 2006, a 13-year-old girl committed suicide after being harassed repeatedly on MySpace by someone she thought was an 18-year-old boy. After her death, it became clear that the boy was, in fact, a creation of the mother of one of the girl's former friends.

According to reports, the woman, Lori Drew, had established a fake MySpace account for a fictitious 18-year-old boy in hopes of finding out what the girl was saying about her daughter online. After pretending to woo the girl, the "boy" turned on her, hurling vicious verbal attacks.

Although no one was charged in the case, the bullying prompted officials in the girl's hometown of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, to make Internet harassment a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is so concerned about cyberbullying that in September 2006 it convened a panel to explore the problem. According to the CDC: "Youth can use electronic media to embarrass, harass or threaten their peers. Increasing numbers of adolescents are becoming victims of this new form of violence ... Like traditional forms of youth violence, electronic aggression is associated with emotional distress and conduct problems at school."

Michigan State University's Nicole Ellison says, "The characteristic of the online medium is that certain aspects of our personalities may be able to be expressed more. In the MySpace situation, the Internet afforded the woman an opportunity to mask as a high-school boy--which would be a lot more difficult face-to-face. The characteristics of the Net allow for different possibilities, and it can be a slippery slope."

Do you have examples of people behaving badly online? Share your well-mannered comments and stories below.

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