Boellstorrf defines griefing as “participation in a virtual world with the intent of disrupting the experience of others” (Boellstorrf 2010:185). The social category of griefer is a new one that emerges from virtual communities. Prior to the popularization of the internet and information technologies, we perhaps referred to these people as “troublemakers,” but there are a number of specific social characteristics of griefers that distinguish this social role in virtual communities. Boellstorrf identifies a number of these: disinhibition (2010:187), group orientation (2010:193), and its association with ‘play.’
But Boellstorrf also suggests that griefing can be a response to Linden Labs, the corporate entity who created Second Life. This is reminiscent of James Scott’s idea of “everyday resistance”:
Scott’s research finds that overt peasant rebellions are actually rather uncommon, do not occur when and where expected, and often don’t have much impact. Rather than seeing ‘resistance as organisation’, Scott looks at less visible, every-day forms of resistance such as ‘foot-dragging, evasion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander and sabotage’. He finds these in rural and factory settings, and also among the middle class and elites (e.g. through tax evasion or conscription), but particularly among rural people who are physically dispersed and less politically organised than urban populations (Scott 1985). (From Powercube)
The line between everyday resistance and rebellion (through social movements) becomes more hazy and porous when seen through the emergence of networked movements, as described by Jeffrey Juris in Networking Futures.
Networking Futures is an anthropological account that starts with the Seattle protests, late 1999, against the WTO and takes the reader to places of protest such as Prague, Barcelona and Genoa. The main thesis of Juris is the shift of radical movements towards the network method as their main form of organization. Juris doesn’t go so far to state that movement as such has been replaced by network(ing). What the network metaphor rather indicates is a shift, away from the centralized party and a renewed emphasis on internationalism (Institute of Network Cultures)
The question to think about today is where does griefing end and hactivism begin? Is Anonymous a group of griefers? For reference, see Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy.