Do Not Feed the Troll (Griefing and Criminal Acts) — Introduction

What is Griefing?  A griefer, as defined on Wikipedia, is found “generally to mean a person who uses the internet to cause distress to others as a prank.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griefer)  Griefing can range from moderately offensive behavior, such as manipulating an environment to show obscene imagery or spamming vulgarity over audio chat to dangerous deeds such as placing content in an environment where it can be harmful.  Griefers can be found in many online environments, from competitive online games, to text only forums and comment boards, to more abstract virtual environments such as Second Life.  For the purposes of this blog griefing will be assumed to entail such activities as “trolling” (intentionally taking ridiculous/obscene positions in online debate) and components of cyber-bullying.


Griefers often will target specific communities and support groups in these online environments such as in the epileptics forum incident described above.  The most common targets of griefers include both gay communities and the furry fandom. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furry)  In particular griefers seem to unite against “furries” for the purposes of disrupting the online cohesion of furry groups or just merely to humiliate furry enthusiasts.  Other niche interests groups seem to often be similarly targeted.


A particularly threatening incident of griefing occurred on an epilepsy forum in 2008 when griefers posted seizure inducing material. (http://www.wired.com/politics/security/news/2008/03/epilepsy)  This material caused at least one user to suffer a seizure.  In situations such as these griefing is clearly much more threatening and dangerous than a simple online prank.


At the same time, this does not necessarily mean that griefers only perform griefing acts against niche or unique groups.  Often they will target largely populated areas of virtual environments for exposure alone, or systematically decrease user enjoyment of a particular game or server over a period of days.  An example of  moderate griefing in an online competitive environment can be seen in this YouTube video (nsfw language):


The acts shown in the video amount primarily to simple pranks instead of serious egregious acts, and many in the online community recognize this.  At the same time, the behavior displayed clearly entails griefing, as the griefers intentionally took action to disrupt the online activity occurring on the servers they joined.


Griefing raises many issues in terms of criminal acts and victimization – Does the fact that victims are voluntarily present in an online environment reduce their rights?  Do griefers actually cause harm?  What are some real-world analogs to supposed crimes perpetrated by griefers?  This blog will continue to discuss griefing issues and examine them in light of real-world and virtual legal standards, attempting to discern where griefing ends as a simple prank and begins to become a truly criminal act.

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~ by scottyufl on October 19, 2010.

2 Responses to “Do Not Feed the Troll (Griefing and Criminal Acts) — Introduction”

  1. Although the more harmful conduct like inducing seizures in others is reprehensible and should be actionable at least on tort grounds, griefing in a game setting with no severe ramifications should probably remain legal, despite its negative social component. I think the lack of out-of-game harm (for all but the most extreme cases) prevents this conduct from ever being illegal.

    And yes, I have been the victim of griefing before in online games but I’m an adult and it was a game so I got over it.

    As an aside, that video is very entertaining.

  2. College Humor made a pretty funny video that captures the ridiculousness of internet trolls.

    ** I don’t approve of anything in the video but I think it shows a good example of what trolls do on message boards or chat rooms **

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