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 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.

Social Crowdhacking
If you tend to put your faith in the wisdom of crowds, you risk being deceived. Consider the anonymously run Web site User/Submitter, for example.

The site takes advantage of Digg's news-ranking system, which allows its registered users to vote on stories they find particularly interesting. User/Submitter acts as a go-between, connecting people who want their stories to feature prominently on Digg with users who can vote for them. The controversial part? The site charges publishers for getting their stories promoted on Digg, and pays readers a smaller amount for "digging" those stories. The system calls into question the authenticity of Digg's top stories and, likely, yields a nice payday for whoever runs User/Submitter.

While there's simply no way to tell whether a User/Submitter post is real, a few folks have managed to scam Digg and similar sites without the help of such a middleman. In November 2006 a news item entitled "Just out from Reuters 650,000 PS3s to be recalled!!" hit Digg's front page.

The story, which at least 841 Digg users recommended, claimed that Sony's game console had a fatal flaw in its graphics processors, that the units would have to be recalled, and that shortages were likely. It was, of course, a complete fake. The author, who goes by the screen name "balzizras," later posted to a forum, saying:

I got my fake story to the front page of digg

ATTN: This is satire, none of this actually happened.

And it crashed my forum ;(

Actually it crashed my whole host, their main site is down too.

take a look:

http://digg.com/gaming_news/Just_out...to_be_recalled

Im [sic] shocked it actually got there. It's kinda funny anyway, some of those people are flamming [sic] me left and right.

Eventually, Digg users caught on, and Digg's logs dumped the story. But before that happened, reports The Mu Life blog, Digg users had continued to recommend the story, despite the comments on the post calling it out as a hoax:

"And this fake article made it to the home page? Nice 'algorithm' Digg."

"This is FAKE! It's [a] made-up forum post, stop digging it! Mark as Inaccurate."

The Mu Life's Muhammed Saleem later asked: "Is bias in social media so strong that people will believe anything (as long as it is pro-Apple, or pro-Nintendo, anti-Microsoft, or anti-Sony, and so on...)? This instance does show us that because of community bias, the community may not be a perfect tool for editorial control, but does this allow us to make the case for having professional (hired) editors/moderators on socially driven news sites?"

Blogs: Personal or Promotional?
Blogs are supposed to be the ultimate expression of unvarnished personal opinion. But some writers are turning their blogs into little more than high-tech sandwich boards. PayPerPost, for instance, is a service that hooks advertisers up with bloggers willing to glorify their wares. In one "recent opportunity" listed on the home page, you could receive $5 just for writing an entry in your blog about Ultimate Paintball.

According to the site, top bloggers have made upward of $1000 each in a recent month. The company's pitch is "Get paid to blog about the things you love!" But is it an honest endorsement if you're getting paid for it?

Take the following example of a post written on one PayPerPost user's blog, Everybody Go To. It sounds less like a post written out of love and more like what it really is--an ad:

Choices, Choices - Where Do I Host?

Posted by Hyder on February 13th, 2008

If you are looking into moving web hosts or just shopping around for a new one, the web hosting choice site could help solve your problems.

The site is very simple to use. Simply enter how much you would like to spend monthly on hosting. How much diskspace and bandwidth you're looking for and search for it. You are then shown a list of choices, from various hosting companies and all the features that you were looking for. Each host also has a rating, don't know where they get that figure from though. One thing is for sure, there are more hosting companies out there than I have even heard of!

You get further information about each plan as you click on it. If you like what you see, click and sign up. I'm set with hosting for now, but I'll probably give the site a go when I'll be shopping for my other domains soon.

*Sponsored Presentation*

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 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."