RIP Trolling

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An image macro, created and posted by Sean Duffy, satirizing the suicide of Natasha MacBryde

RIP trolling is a type of trolling concerned with Internet commenters posting sarcastic and inflammatory remarks on the memorial pages of deceased persons. Though not limited to it, most RIP trolling takes place on the Facebook social network, as many memorials are open to the public and broadly accessible. University of Oregon Ph.D. student Whitney Phillips contends that most RIP trolling is not directed at the family of the deceased, but rather "grief tourists": users who have no real–life connection to the victim.[1]

Ethical implications of RIP Trolling include the obvious emotional distress that the practice causes the family and friends of the deceased, along with questions as to if the process should be legal and/or allowed by the various sites, like Facebook, that it occurs on. Since RIP Trolling is often done anonymously or through the use of a pseudonym or fake identity, another issue to consider is that of online identity and the extent to which anonymity on the internet should be allowed.

In the News

With their high level of shock-value and offense, a few cases of RIP trolling have unsurprisingly involved police and media coverage.

Today Show

On March 31, 2010, the Today Show ran a segment detailing the deaths of three separate adolescent girls and trolls' subsequent reactions to their deaths. Shortly after the suicide of high school student Alexis Pilkington, anonymous posters began trolling for reactions across various message boards, referring to Pilkington as a "suicidal slut", and posting graphic images on her Facebook memorial page. The segment also included an exposé of a 2006 accident, in which an eighteen-year-old student out for a drive fatally crashed her father's car into a highway pylon; trolls emailed her grieving family the leaked pictures of her mutilated corpse.[2]

Bradley Hampson

In March 2011, Bradley Paul Hampson, a 29-year-old Australian, was sentenced to three years of prison after posting offensive messages and photographs on the Facebook RIP tribute pages of a 12-year-old stabbing victim and a 9-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered.[3] Hampson posted photographs of one victim with "a penis drawn near their mouth" and highly offensive messages including "Woot I'm Dead" and "Had It Coming". Hampson was later freed after 220 days in jail when an appellate judge ruled that the previous sentencing was excessive.[4]

Sean Duffy

In a court case from September 2011, Sean Duffy, was jailed for vandalizing tribute pages of many young victims of crimes and suicides. Additionally, Duffy created his own YouTube videos and mock tribute pages to further torture the victims' friends and families. After being linked to harassing and creating several of these pages and videos, Duffy was finally punished for his trolling offenses. He plead guilty to two counts of sending vindictive messages relating to one victim, and asked for his other offenses to be considered in the same case. In the end, Duffy was sentenced to 18 weeks in jail in addition to a 5 year antisocial behavior order to prohibit Duffy from utilizing any forms of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. It was reported that Duffy suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, but this was never confirmed. Police commented on the case saying they would continue to track down trolls like Duffy, demonstrating a clear precedent for trolling on the Internet.[5]


University of Oregon Ph.D. student Whitney Phillips went undercover to interview and understand the RIP trolling community. A troll going by the username "Paulie Socash" participated in a series of interviews with Phillips revealing some of the motivation and intention of RIP trolling. Socash and his cohort create a set of fake Facebook profiles, iterating on a common name theme, for example "David Davidson" and befriend each other. In many cases, fake memorial pages are created for highly publicized deaths, particularly of white teen women. The trolls all "like" the page and wait for the inevitable commentary from strangers looking to join in shared grieving. They then begin their work, posting inflammatory images and comments, trying to get a rise out of the unsuspecting, and now offended members of the page.[1]

"RIP Georgia Varley" is a fake memorial group setup to troll mourners of the real Georgia Varley
The reality of this is simple: the vast majority of those who get large memorial pages on Facebook are cute little kids (Jamie Bulger) or pretty young ladies (Jenni-Lyn Watson, Chelsea King) or useful pawns for a cause (Tyler Clementi and other gay suicides). These memorial pages are decidedly not a place for friends and family to grieve (family and friends should be grieving together in private like normal people). In reality, these are havens for “grief tourists”: people who substitute online emotions and declarations of solidarity for real emotional relationships and friendship. Most memorial pages are not set up by friends or family; they are created by people who are too involved with the stories they read online or see on the news — people who derive some sense of self-importance and worth from being seen to care by strangers. — Paulie Socash, troll[6]

Socash argues that "grief tourists" are disingenuous and wholly deserving of trolling, “This isn’t grief, this is boredom and a pathological need for attention masquerading as grief.” Phillips explains this phenomenon as being an artifact of the tragedy obsessed global media. The trolls are making a social critique of societies' passive grief for strangers, often of young, attractive, white adolescent girls. Phillips concludes that the continued media coverage of these teen deaths and subsequent trolling creates a continuous feedback loop between the media and the trolls.[1]

Ethical Issues

The issues with RIP Trolling arises when individuals make the remarks and they cause emotional distress on the friends and family of the deceased. It raises questions as to whether or not this should be illegal, also raising the issue of what should happen to your Facebook account should someone pass away with an active account. In the case of a 15 year old boy from Chicago who drowned and his Facebook page was vandalized with photos of people drowning, the family has grounds to pursue some kind of legal action, however since this brings up the issue of anonymity since it is oftentimes done through a fake account. [7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 First Monday Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet: "LOLing at tragedy: Facebook trolls, memorial pages and resistance to grief online"
  2. The Today Show: "Trolling: 'The Today Show' Explores the Dark Side of the Internet" March 31, 2010
  3. Courier Mail Website: "Facebook troll Bradley Paul Hampson jailed for posting child porn on tribute pages for dead children" March 25, 2011
  4. Adelaide Now Website: "Facebook 'troll' Bradley Paul Hampson to be freed immediately after winning appeal" June 3, 2011
  5. The Guardian Website: "Internet troll jailed after mocking deaths of teenagers" September 13, 2011
  6. Index: The Voice of Free Expression: "Interview with a Troll" September 14, 2011

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