If you've been involved with online communities long enough, you've seen them turn mean. If you're an outsider you can look at a lot of the drama and have no idea why people are so worked up. This seems to be a good description of the phenomenon:
Eventually, you see the effect of what I’ll call Harris’ Law: At some point, all humanity in an online community is lost, and the goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another person.The examples provided in that article,
Harris’ Law took effect last year when Abraham Biggs killed himself in front of a live webcam audience on life-streaming service JustinTV. The audience’s role? They encouraged him to do it.Yet anonymity isn't crucial to online bullying. In fact, sometimes it's the opposite - Lori Drew may have been anonymous, but the harm was inflicted through a profile that was believed to be real.
Harris’ law took effect in October of 2006, when Lori Drew, a grown woman, created a fake alias on MySpace (”Josh Evans”) in order to psychologically torture 14-year-old Megan Meier. Drew started a online love affair with Megan as “Evans” before pulling the rug out and viciously turning on her victim. This “cyber-bullying,” as the press likes to call it, resulted in Megan killing herself.
Harris’ Law took effect in October of last year when Choi Jin-sil killed herself, reportedly over the fallout from Internet rumors. The bullying in Korea has become so intense that you’re now required to use your Social Security Number to sign up for a social network.
Unpleasantness in virtual communities is often at the hands of people whose real identities are known, or who have an established virtual identity that vests them with significant authority despite their nominal anonymity. Online cliques form and... well, when Heathers rule the world you don't want to be "Martha Dumptruck". But there's a twist: in some ways its easier to be a Heather in an online world, but also it's easier to refuse to leave a virtual world in response to the Heathers. If you're in a physical living room, and your host and her friends start acting obnoxious, odds are you're going to leave. If it's the online equivalent, you're more likely to dig your heels in and insist, "I have every bit as much right to be here as you do." So on it goes. In one of my forums, I have reminded people that they can put other members they don't like on their "ignore" lists, but it seems that most prefer to read the offending remarks, take great umbrage, and perpetuate the war.
Meanwhile, in the virtual world known as "4chan", the beat goes on. A twitchy teenager named "Boxxy" inspired astonishing acrimony:
What kind of a teenager so divides the fifth-largest Web community that the entire mechanism grinds to a halt? Probably not the kind you expect. She holds no strong opinions, does not deal in sex or violence, and wasn't even looking for fame when she sparked a civil war on a popular website called 4chan."Neither a presidential election nor troubles in the Middle East provoked people as much in the 4chan community" - The resulting civil war literally crashed 4chan's servers and, ultimately, Boxxy disappeared.