The common element to both of these incidents is that both started online, but quickly spiraled into meatspace. It is not far-fetched to imagine that this could happen within an online game's community. In the past, Western gamers have banded together to identify and harass other players that have exposed themselves in some way. For instance, when a hapless adventurer named Ceciliantas used his apartment in EverQuest 2 for some "quality roleplay," the torrid logs were quickly posted on the independently-hosted forums for his server. The story quickly spread across the internet, and the player was harassed to the point of making a new character. Although the harassment didn't spill out into the real world, going that extra yard would not have been too difficult. For instance, as a result of his posts defending himself, the owner of the message forum had his IP address captured. With that IP address, it is not too difficult to locate its physical location. Police departments use this software to track child predators, and it's also available to the general public.
While most people would never dream of intruding on someone else's solitude, this sentiment seems to fade when they are online. From gamers who engage in griefing to the nefarious individuals who fill our inboxes with spam and phishing scams, some of us abuse our online anonymity. This same anonymity seems to empower these iMobs, who have a very real target with a known identity. Each member of the iMob is just as anonymous as he or she chooses to be. It seems much easier to point out the mote in someone's eye when nobody can see the beam in yours. It is even easier when several hundred to thousand people are after the same person. Much like the lynch mobs of old, it is easier to persecute someone when "all the other kids are doing it."
One example of this behavior is the outing of Prokofy Neva, a resident of Second Life. Prokofy was a vocal and often controversial poster on the Second Life forums. Nolan Nash, another resident, began posting Prokofy's real-life information to the forums. While many Second Life residents expressed their outrage that someone would violate another's privacy in that manner, many intimated that Prokofy deserved it. While the information was easily discoverable, Prokofy's expectation was that nobody would delve that deep. Although there were no reported repercussions in meatspace, this "outing" compromised the purported sanctity of Prokofy's online persona. Ultimately, Prokofy was banned from the Second Life forums.
His banning was the result of the Second Life equivalent of an iMob on the forums - people who, possibly with the endorsement of one of Linden Lab's employees, pursued the controversial poster, attempting to enrage him to the point of violating the in-game terms of service or forum guidelines. Instead of changing avatars to return to the forums, or simply to hide from those who dislike him, Prokofy has remained in-world, managing his businesses.
When people are victimized by online stalkers, the damage to the person behind the keyboard can be severe. Although it seems easy to minimize the plight of people who "deserve it," being hounded by others and chased away from a community is no less hurtful because the victim is unpopular. As long as the herd mentality is alive and well, drawing the attention of the iMob is a risk any outspoken online persona takes.
Matthew 'CmdrSlack' Hector is a licensed attorney in the State of Illinois. He is currently writing for Real Name Gamers.