Off-topic: Cyber-Bully University

The world of the internet, one way or another, is going to be the backbone of our civilization for the next several decades. Currently cyberspace is a lot like the Wild West in 19th-century America: millions of people rushing into this new world of opportunity, with virtually no order, control or oversight. Most people are acting responsibly out there, but more and more people out there are exploiting the lack of oversight to do all sorts of things they couldn’t possibly get away with in the real world. A growing problem out there is harassment: cyber-stalking and cyber-terrorism. Abuse on the internet has already claimed victims: Megan Meier of Missouri killed herself at the age of 13 after a group of adults targeted her for bullying and betrayal in MySpace. One would think that this sort of behaviour would largely be confined to tweens and teens, but the sad fact is that many adults, faced with the prospect of sitting down at their laptops and enjoying a powerful megaphone that can reach the whole world, with no consequences, indulge in behaviour that would make them cringe if their names were publicly attached to them. Abuse is a big problem and it’s growing, spreading. And some people are working hard to spread it, deliberately.

One of the largest networks for internet communication is Delphi/Mzinga, and one of the biggest forums within that internet family is a place called Isle Of Whack. With 30,000 members, it is fairly huge, and its influence spreads across the internet. And its most cherished aim is…abuse, bullying, cyber-stalking. The ringleaders of this group launch terror campaigns against their own members and even outsiders, with thousands of posts of insults, malicious rumors, namecalling, gang attacks, threats, and attempts to stalk victims in real life. They deliberately target the weak and vulnerable, victims of abuse, anyone who dares to defend the victims, or anyone who shows signs of, no other word for it, decency. Their greatest joy is to cause one of their victims to go into a “meltdown”. In one case they tried to encourage a girl to commit suicide. The abuse and the stalking can go on for years, hunting victims in real life, trying to cause problems in people’s workplaces and families. The effort is quite organized and sophisticated. Some victims are so scarred that they are afraid to speak out about the abuse – some are afraid to use the internet at all, for fear of being hunted. Some victims are also abuse victims in real life, and they have in some cases said that they fear the IOW attacks more than their real-world attackers. Even though this behaviour violates not only the forum terms of service but also state and federal law in some cases, the parent organization which has oversight over this group has ignored complaints, tossed victims aside, and essentially surrendered control to the Isle Of Whack regulars: the victims have only two choices – hide or leave the internet entirely.

Welcome to Cyber-Bully University. The Isle Of Whack.

With no supervision, the Isle Of Whack regulars launch unprovoked, unnecessary, pointless attack campaigns, with the sole aim of hurting their own members and visitors. Posting false and defamatory accusations, rumors, namecalling and labels, to humiliate the victim and damage reputations; attempting to turn others against the victim and join in the harassment; claiming that the victim harmed someone in some way, seeking revenge for real or imaginary harm; seeking and threatening to harm the victim in the real world; internet surveillance, trying to track IP addresses, homes and places of employment; posting personal information about the victim on the internet, as embarrassing as possible.

The IOW people deliberately target abuse victims and other vulnerable people. Their aim is to cause the victim to “melt down”, so they can “get out the popcorn”, enjoy the show, and continue the savagery. They also target anyone who dares to defend the victims. They actually targeted a member who posted information on how to contribute to Haiti earthquake relief. If there’s someone they truly dislike, they are capable of attacking him or her on 5-10 threads at once. Weirdly, they even attack members who try to help other members in trouble, as though compassion is a violation of the terms of service: when the regulars spot a grownup in the room, anyone with manners, anyone with any vulnerability, it’s like sharks smelling blood.

All of this is quite easy to verify, because abuse is the focus of their lives: a quick look at the truly gigantic post-threads that dominate the forum, shows that the big threads are overwhelmingly dominated by abusive posts: 600 posts on the “So Mote It Be” thread, 3000 on “Come Home Disillusioned”, 700 about a child flushing a toilet, 400 on the “Funtimes” thread, 200 on “This ID”, 100 on PTSD, 300 on the abused-women thread. And even when they are not abusing their victims, they are venting their spleen about all the real-world people they hate – their own relatives, the people and companies they deal with, and so on.

IOW has entire folders loaded with threads specifically aimed at abusing other members, folders with ironic names like “I Can’t Believe She Said That” and “She’s So Mean”.

There was one member who was vulnerable and emotional because she had left an abusive relationship and had seriously ill family members, so needless to say the IOW crew pounced on her, both in IOW and in two other forums. When she fought back, one of the IOW regulars warned her that she’d regret it, and carried through on the threat. Her reputation was savaged, all across the internet. She said

I won't lie. It hurt. I was in a bad place and they took advantage of it and still do. They really took a chunk out of me at a time when I was weak and down. This was years ago, and they still bring me up like it was the other day. They do that to everyone….I watched them attack women who were admittedly mentally ill. I watched them attack people viciously, follow them in real life, track their Myspace pages, phone CPS on them, phone their mothers, and in one instance phoned a girls ex to tell him she was carrying his baby because she wouldn't. That's only a tiny bit of the damage they've caused for kicks and giggles.

Another member was suffering because her daughter was ill, nephew dead, brother also in a bad way. They pounded her with hundreds of attacks while she was still in mourning, stalking her across the internet so they could attack and harass her wherever she surfaced. Another horrified member described it:

They followed her everywhere, until she finally “melted” (spree! Get out the popcorn) on IOW. They harassed her everywhere she posted...hoping for a joyous return of her meltdowns.

Yet another member was known by the IOW regulars to be an abuse victim – and they still pounded her repeatedly, just for offering shopping tips. They smelled vulnerability, and pounced.

Another member made the fatal mistake of displaying some sort of weakness or vulnerability, and was hounded with hundreds of attacks posts, and then railroaded out of the forum. This person then compounded his/her error by pleading for reinstatement, whereupon the "Whacks" put this person on "trial", conducting an endless inquisition to determine whether to "reinstate" or "execute", dangling the prospect of reinstatement in front of them as long as possible, making the victim beg and beg and beg before, of course, dropping the axe. Followed of course by an entire evening of giggles from the IOW crew.

Here is a brief, very mild example, the abuse they dumped on one member who raised a perfectly harmless issue pertaining to PTSD. This went on for weeks. If you're a sensitive reader, feel free to skip to the next paragraph -- it isn't pretty.

I just want to tell you that you suck for taking a shit in a thread that was started for the sole purpose of asking for help and support. You suck. What a self-serving dick. You babble on with your tinfoil hat and your razorwire compound. I think you are a freak. What kind of a dick does that? One who rates way up on the douchemometer? Whatever his message was, it was lost in a sea of selfish assholery. Are you still spreading your manure everywhere? I told you in the other thread that you so rudely shit in, that you have NO freaking clue what you are talking about. I guarantee that no one at this forum will take you seriously now that you have shown how lacking in class you really are. You are talking out of your ass, sir, and I suspect that you may have some disorder that makes you feel compelled to act like a douchebag but that does not excuse your behaviour in the least. I'm wondering how I can help you get the psychological help you seem to need but frankly, until you take a break from being a dickwad on the internet, step back and take a look at your random rants, no improvement will be forthcoming and you will continue to serve no use to anyone except as a skin irritant. Enjoy your life gnawing at your feet and scratching secret messages into the floorboards. This guy is a vagina. His delusions of self-importance are sickening. You are winning the Whack of the Month contest, if that's what you are inquiring about. You are also the only finalist for the Douche of the Year contest here at the Isle. The point you made here in the real world is that you are an ass. You seem too thick to figure out that there are some things that even if you win, you lose. Like, for instance, The FreeWheel2 Crams His Jackass Opinion Down The Throats Of Every American From His Armchair contest...You are a fuckin' moron. I swear, it's like talking to someone who doesn't speak a word of English. Your stupidity and nastiness are astronomical. Go conspiracywank somewhere else, ponyboy, because no one gives a shit about your disconnected babbling and fist eating over here. We heard you the first time. We just didn't give a fuck about your opinion. We might if you post your dumb question again, though. He's one of the few, the proud, the ones whose net IQ would go up if they got head lice. Right now, I'd say a good cure for suicide is not to have to listen to your rambling disjointed foot-typed bullshit. Why do people not figure out what the fuck they're talking about before they start ranting about it? Let's ask FreekWheel! Gods you're fucking disgusting. Seriously. Disgusting. You're a Class A Douchebag. He's too far gone. The asscranialectomy won't take. You are sickening. If you were to go fuck yourself in the woods, would anyone care? You are an ignorant ass-clown. I am done with you, you are too damn stupid to even deal with. You have no clue what the hell you are talking about. Get a life, and go spew your bullshit to someone who cares. Go crawl back into your mom's basement and play Dungeons and Dragons with all your little friends from junior high, mmmkay? Someday you will squirm with the recognition of how totally you have shown your ass here. I didn't change the subject, asswad. I told you eleventy times that, YES, you are winning the Douchebag of the Year contest. Fuck off. You are an idiot and a simpleton if you think that post was at all appropriate.

This is not just abusive activity – it is organized abusive activity. Not content with abusing their victims in the IOW forum itself, they pursue their targets all across cyberspace and in real life. They use their pliant moderators to track IP addresses; they harass their victims in one internet forum after another, hoping to drive them off the net entirely. Victims foolish enough to share private details find that the IOW regulars are hunting them in the real world, calling the law on them, calling their relatives, trying to cause them further trauma. At one point, one visitor who fled the IOW forum popped up in another forum and asked innocently: “can anybody recommend some forums to join? I don’t want to go back to IOW” – and the IOW posse descended like the Nazgul, attacking. At another point, an IOW “leader” was pursuing an IP address in hopes of penetrating a government computer and discovering the identity of one of her targets. Yet another member is opening another forum, a new branch office for abuse and harassment. Try to think of historical examples of such organized sadism – only groups like the Nazis and the Klan come to mind. More and more, this abusive behaviour spills outside the confines of the IOW forum. In some cases, they even coordinate their "hunts" with like-minded members of other Delphi forums.

When members began to raise these issues, an extraordinary thing happened. A number of terrified IOW victims came forward and sent private messages, detailing the abuse that the IOW regulars had directed at others. But they begged that no one disclose who they were, because they didn’t want to be hounded and stalked anymore. What makes it even more extraordinary is that a number of these women are victims of real-life abuse, and apparently they are even more terrified of the cyberspace attacks of the IOW people, than they are of their real-world abusers.

Wow.

A growing number of women have shared tales of the terror campaigns of the past.

Those women scare the shit out of me.

They're vicious, horrible character assassins of the worst kind.

It's a free-for-all and they're downright cruel. I was already on bad terms with them when I made the dire mistake of sticking up for [an IOW member], who dared to go off her medication and act like 'whack" as a result. She threatened to commit suicide if they don't stop, and [an IOW member] said her daughter would be better off without her. That's when I stepped in and flipped. Now I'm a whack and a whack defender! There's another story if you'd like....

A forum you choose to frequent holds destructive women who thrive on causing trouble amongst friends, who feed off of vulnerable women, sometimes express racist views about their "friends”.

There are more witnesses to all this, but they’re too scared to speak up – they said so.

When they can’t find victims to abuse, they will either post something inflammatory in hopes of attracting a former victim back for more abuse (see the “Is That You” thread), or they will pull up an old abuse thread and relive it again, or they will reminisce about their past terror campaigns. They did so in a “Whack of the Decade” thread that went up to something like 1500 posts, the Cyber-Harassment Hall of Flame, crowing and laughing about all the people they’ve tried to abuse and humiliate over the years, replaying the cries of the victims, and teaching the new folks whom to attack. Likewise the “IOW Losers” thread, and “Best Post By a Whack”, and “Just Do Not Fit In”. They never, ever let go: abuse campaigns can go on for thousands of posts, for years. Years later they still crow about the terror campaign they launched against the woman with the pooping dog.

A complicating factor is that ironically, a lot of these IOW people are themselves abuse victims, or else have other issues. One of the worst abusers has acknowledged mental illness issues; regularly there are stories of drugs, abusive parents, dysfunctional families, troubled relationships, mental disorders, OCD, struggles for control, suicide issues, and the recurring theme of “I was forced to cut this person out of my life”. It is difficult to envision a group that is more in need of adult supervision. Their behaviour often violates the federal Violence Against Women Act as well as many state stalking laws. How such people could resolve to dedicate a major portion of their lives to hurting other people…is something which professionals would need to unravel. The fact remains that bullies deserve to be opposed, to be fought.

Pretty soon the internet will need an “I Survived IOW” support group. But it would be attacked. Victims are afraid to even go back on the internet.

The internet is going to be the center of our world for quite some time. So it’s time to decide what we want this world to look like: a safe place to live, talk, share, or a cesspool.

Google “Delphi forums”, go to the site, and look through the message board to find “Isle Of Whack”, and see for yourself. Delphi Forums is a subsidiary of Mzinga, 154 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, Massachusetts, 01803.

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I noticed it also showed up (at least a partial portion of it) on an ABC politics blog.

Where else have you posted it? ...and are you sure you're not giving out too much personal information about some of the situations confronted?

I need to re-read and check w/some other editors -- if the consensus is that you may need to obscure some of the info a little more to avoid invasions of privacy, we'll let you know and may have to temporarily unpublish it.

...thank you for coming over to post it -- I participate a lot over on Delphi, and sometimes pull ideas and hat-tip original posters from there -- so I appreciate the visit back, even in spite of the subject.

Sure -- if you want me to whittle it down from R to PG13, I'm more than willing. I already stripped out names and anything that would identify particular individuals too closely, because the aim, of course, is to protect people from further abuse. If we want to water it down, the easiest way would be to remove the "case histories" of the victims, which is a two-minute job. Likewise if you want me to take out the big "fuck fuck fuck" paragraph, I understand completely.

There ya go -- I watered it down some.

It's always a good idea to ensure that abuse victims aren't easily identifiable by description unless they provide permission to have their cases related; in cases of cyber-stalking, stalkers can sometimes utilize too-descriptive information to their advantage, and the victims could feel even more beset upon.

I added some blockquote tags to make it a little easier to read.

For what it's worth, cyberstalking is illegal in California [ref]. Gets a year in prison and/or $1000 fine.

Thanks for the blocks -- I'm an old fossil from the dot-matrix era, and unaccustomed to this newfangled interweb stuff. I also altered the content to protect the victims, as suggested.

You do realize of course that participation in all forum type websites is purely voluntary. All these incidents that you describe in your rather wordy and (I apologize)ranty post could have simply been avoided by the user no longer visiting said forum.

Your post makes you sound childish...reminds me a bit of a little boy not getting his way.

You became a member of a forum, the membership in general didn't like you for whatever reason and you seem to not be able to deal with that.

The thing is sh1t happens in life, I suggest you get over it and move on to better things.

You really need to stop posting this same thing on numerous sites, it's makes you come across as sad and desperate which is why I'm sure the membership of the forum didn't like you to begin with. It's a bit like, look at me, look at me, LOOK AT ME NOW DAMNIT!!!!

You cannot force people to either like or accept you and quite frankly, you need to step out of the sandbox and put your big boy pants on.

You do realize of course that participation in all forum type websites is purely voluntary. All these incidents that you describe in your rather wordy and (I apologize)ranty post could have simply been avoided by the user no longer visiting said forum.

But the "just don't go there anymore" mantra isn't always so simple. Like with smokers -- "just stop smoking" would be the equivalent, and some smokers can. Others can't, for a variety of physical and psychological reasons.

You cannot force people to either like or accept you and quite frankly, you need to step out of the sandbox and put your big boy pants on.

Just out of curiosity, are you also a person who has frequented the site in question? Do you have any direct experience of it? Your tone could simply be that of someone who likes to oversimplify situations and then condescendingly offer otherwise commonsense solutions, but the "big boy pants" reference and the apparent insistence that the user's problem was that "membership didn't like" him or her seemed oddly versed, as if barbed toward someone familiar...and seemed to ignore other elements reflected and alleged in the original post.

Sorry to put you on the spot -- it just appears that your text could be mistaken for concern trolling by an involved party, and I thought that was worth inquiring after.

NOTE: I came back and edited the comment above for clarity, 'cuz when I reread it I realized it was missing some words and was awkwardly phrased. It's still mostly the same -- ideally, simply more comprehendible.

The poster has a point. This forum attracts people who enjoy bashing others. It is sport for this type of personality. They appear to need this type of outlet in their daily lives and are attracted to a place that not only allows it but encourages and supports it.

Whenever they get someone who can take their bashing and hand it back to them, they gag them.

The very nature of this comment is suspicious concerning the topic of cyber-bullying. It indicates a need to dismiss or belittle the feelings of those being bullied, and I wonder why the respondent felt a need to display such a cold response to the problem?

In this blog, I read about people who "attack women who were admittedly mentally ill... attack people viciously, follow them in real life, track their Myspace pages, phone CPS on them, phone their mothers, and in one instance [phone] a girls ex to tell him she was carrying his baby because she wouldn't. That's only a tiny bit of the damage they've caused for kicks and giggles."

If this is true it goes beyond a simple choice to visit a site. It seems like the afflicted visits the site, and as a result finds themselves being stalked all over the net and in some instances even in real life. If the bullying goes beyond that site, it becomes a problem does it not? The attempt to quiet this blogger with childish suggestions like "Put your big boy pants on" shows how problematic this phenomenon is.

A person can't even speak out about what's happened to them or others without being chided for being weak. This obvious attempt to muzzle those who disagree with the deplorable behaviour of cyber-bullies is chilling.

To the person who posted that comment: From the personal nature of your post I'll assume you come from the site which is exposed in this blog. Thank you for exposing it even further. Perhaps YOU should "put your big boy pants on" and live with the backlash of your own actions. Your post only proves what the blogger has been saying. If you thought that was a good rebuttel you were dead wrong. You have exposed yourself as a cyber-bully who follows people into other sites in an attempt to muzzle their right to speak. Good job! *applause*

Looked like our formatter may have eaten some of your paragraphs, so I went in and added the html for new paragraph where it looked it once existed.

Hopefully, I didn't change the tone or style by doing so. :/

Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

I was on delphi forums. I was on a autism forum crying my heart out about the harassment I get from the local school district when one of my friends brought it to my attention that I should go to the Isle of Whack and see what they wrote about me. Sure enough I went there and it was very filthy. I tried to defend myself and was unable too. The women there wrote very well and let me tell you it was crude. I then contacted Enike moderator who sent me some nasty emails back that would make ones toe nails curl. I sent it to Walt who ignored it. So I blew up and started fighting back using vulgarity back. I could not keep up because it seemed like there was one against 50 or more. The next day I was unable to sign into my delphi account because Walt punished me and refused to do anything to the moderator Enike. Then a few friends of mine went into the forum to try to defend me just to find out they were being stalked. Those women from isle of whack purposely followed my friends to other forums just to cause much harassment. Luckily one of my friends was a moderator of his own forum and shut them out. Still they kept on going to his forum for over 3 months. They used so many different nic's I could not believe it had to be different people. I was surprised I am not the only one who sees what is happening here. Why is Walt defending such a forum? I think its the money it brings in. What else could it be?