The “latest chapter”: of the Scripps/Recipezaar debacle brought out a group of people I had forgotten about. I just had a great idea, though… someone should make a documentary movie about these people! The best documentaries are the ones about real people leading bizarre lives and these people fit the bill and then some.

Here’s the premise…

It’s a group of adult people who get together with a tiny number of like-minded people and attack other people on the internet. That in itself isn’t that new, but what makes them so bizarre is that they do it for years with mostly the same people day and night. It’s essentially a 24x7 365 days a year war, or set of wars. It’s like they’re playing Dungeons & Dragons but with real people on the internet. Some of the groups I’ve seen are well into their 7th year of doing this, and I’d bet even longer before they ever came to my attention. Could it be 10 or 15 years?

We were exposed to it on Recipezaar because it had a large number of people participating in forums and there was a catch-all forum where you could talk about anything you wanted, not just cooking. This group broke up into warring sects or the sects existed before and came to Recipezaar where they saw a lot of innocents. They recruit new members, they pick unsuspecting and gullible people and befriend them to convince them to do things they wouldn’t normally do, they have “sentries” who watch their enemies’ camps (bulletin boards) around the clock and report on what they read, they have “spies” that infiltrate other groups for ammunition and I’m sure tons of other extreme things we never saw.

It’s like a religious military but everything’s done by forum posts, email and IM rather than guns and bombs. Each group has a name, a single cult-like leader who has the final say in who is in the group and who has to be kicked out, who the new targets are and why, they make big speeches to rally their followers, there’s coup d’etats, back-stabbing and everything else you see in a soap opera or war novel.

The issues they battle over are things you’d expect like religion and politics and friendships but also on things you wouldn’t expect: people’s choice of pet, the TV shows and movies they like, the recipes they like (that’s probably Recipezaar-specific) and I’m sure tons of other things that normal people don’t even notice. No issue is too small to go to war over.

I think it’s interesting because the internet really makes them possible. I guess these types existed before the internet, but they were just the crazy aunt or uncle in families or the person down the street who peered out the window and gossiped about everyone and parents told their kids to avoid. But thanks to the internet, they’re worldwide so they have a huge number of people to fight with, to become paranoid about, etc.

I also wonder if they only exist on the internet or if they have wars with their mailman, their neighbors, the cashier at their local grocery store, their spouses and children, etc. In other words, are they the same people as the old crazies pre-internet or are they a new breed focused solely on the internet?

Is it one big long war or is it a series of small battles? Is there scoring and points involved? How do you decide who wins? How do their families get involved? Do their families know and support them or is it hidden from their families? Do they prepare their children to continue the war after they’re gone? Do they teach their children their tactics so they can become great internet warriors one day? Do they have jobs and, if so, does it interfere with their job or career? Does it help them in their job or career? Are they educated, uneducated or a mix? There’s no end to the questions and a documentary could answer them all.

It’s a fascinating sociology and psychological study and it’d be an amazing documentary. Someone’s gotta do it.