TODAY | March 31, 2010
my choice is clear: the pharmacy counter.
>>> we're back at 8:08. this morning on "today's family," a cruel new online trend that's been dubbed "trolling." family and friends in mourning targeted after a tragedy. nbc's jeff rossen 's here with the disturbing details on this. jeff , good morning.
>> hey, matt, good morning. you wonder how mean people can be? here's your answer. these trolling internet stalkers stop at nothing to cause pain. when a 17-year-old girl died recently, internet trolls got busy harassing the people that loved her.
>> she's a soccer star, a la cross star, and a best friend . to everyone.
>> reporter: electrlexy was a fun-loving girl.
>> my beautiful angel. everybody loved her.
>> reporter: but last week her parents found her, lifeless after a year of therapy, lexy hanged herself inside her own bedroom. there was no suicide note , no explanation at all.
>> when you get killed in a car accident you have an answer. when you die from disease, you have an answer. we don't have an answer here.
>> reporter: soon the cruel underbelly of the internet would light up. within hours of lexie's death, just as her family had hit rock bottom , graphic images and defensive chatter about lexy .
>> the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. is how it is to die. you end up looking like apple pie .
>> reporter: and it gets worse. many messages we can't share. it is called trolling. internet trolls post outrageous comments on message boards trolling for reaction.
>> they say, no, the soccer team made some cuts and they left a poor girl hanging.
>> reporter: lexy 's friends saw the posts, now they're banding together to fight internet trolling .
>> they're just sick in the head and they have no hearts. we're still hurting, and it's not going to go away for a while. this is just adding to the fire.
>> reporter: there have been high-profile cases before. back in 2006 , one of the most vicious cases of trolling. 18-year-old nikki took her father's porsche out for a joyride. she hit high speeds and crashed into a toll plaza . police pictures of her mutilated body were leaked, and posted all over the internet. images so graphic we can't even show you. internet trolls even e-mail the photoed to her grieving family just to hurt them.
>> crazy, crazy stuff.
>> we have a lot of messages like you deserve that, you rich -- you know what. you deserve that. she deserved it.
>> reporter: no one is off-limits. in fact, the more vulnerable you are, the bigger target you become, dead or alive .
>> trolling is definitely a dark side of the net and it's becoming more widespread because with the more forums there are available for people to pose these things anonymously, the more brazen people are becoming.
>> reporter: this week, police say teenagers in massachusetts bullied 15-year-old phoebe prince so much she killed herself. even after her suicide, her bullies wouldn't stop, posting nasty messages on her facebook memorial page. internet trolls did the same thing on lexi's page.
>> if we can save one kid, one family, one community, from feeling the way we feel, it's one victory.
>> she's a smiling, beautiful child . look at that. don't look at the negative.
>> you wonder what kind of people would do this. this morning police are investigating, but there isn't much they can do. the trolls are sometimes overseas using fake names. so it is tough to even find them.
>> jeff rossen , thank you very much. perry aftab is the executive director of wiredsafety.org. good morning to you. reprehensible, repulsive, fill in the blank with your own adjective here. but, it's not illegal, is it?
>> well, it may be illegal but what we're seeing here isn't. these people are just trying to provoke a reaction and they're trying to harass people but not across the legal line.
>> jeff said this has been going on at least for a few years. is it, though, increasing in frequency because of the explosion in social networking ?
>> yeah, absolutely. it's been going on since the web was launched, but it is increasing because you have the real quick reaction times. you might be on a cell phone , you can post something nasty on facebook , you're there, bored in the middle of the night so you're going to do something that gets you some attention.
>> in the case of lexi pilkington, the young lady who committed suicide , are these xhoents being posted, in your opinion, by people who actually knew her, or are there people elsewhere in the country and around the world who simply peruse the headlines and then make some connection with a tragic story?
>> probably both. cyber bullying is when you know somebody. then you'll see some personal facts about her, not just comments about "it is good that you died and you're a slut," so something that's personal to her. if it is just a horrible comment about, good, they died, one less person to worry about, you're too rich anyway, that is trolling or mobbing and we're seeing a lot of situations where people are doing it just because they can.
>> law enforcement officials around the country are cracking down on cyber bullying . we've seen that just recently. i guess this would in some ways fit in because the whole purpose here is to inflict some kind of emotional pain on an individual. so can they bend the rules a little bit and include this in that category?
>> good point. actually, there is a federal law that came out about four years ago that says if you're harassing somebody anonymously with an intent to annoy, it is now a felony. although they may be making up the names, as jeff indicated, there is an ip address , the cyber trail of breadcrumbs. facebook collects it any time you interact with their site. so do all the others. if law enforcement wants it, they'll get it.
>> you're working with facebook , i don't know that you'll be able to prevent this except by threatening things like you just talked about.
>> well, you got to educate people, let parents know that if, god forbid , somebody dies in their family, somebody needs to lock down their facebook page and turn it into a memorial page. google your kid's facts so you always know where they are, alive hopefully always. make sure you have a kid around who can monitor these kinds of pages. stay on top of it. get your kid's password. put it in an envelope. don't like at it. sign across it. if you're in control you can protect your kids whether they're alive or after their death.
>> it is unbelievable we even have to talk about this.
>> so many times, matt. facebook is on this. they're spending a lot of time on memorial pages, they're monitoring these and they intend to do what they can both on education and enforcement side.
>> parry, thanks very much. we're back right after this.
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