For all of its amazing potential for good, here is a sobering reminder of what else the Web is good for, namely preying on people and causing horrible havoc.

Today the Internet is much more than esoteric discussion forums. It is a mass medium for defining who we are to ourselves and to others. Teenagers groom their MySpace profiles as intensely as their hair; escapists clock 50-hour weeks in virtual worlds, accumulating gold for their online avatars. Anyone seeking work or love can expect to be Googled. As our emotional investment in the Internet has grown, the stakes for trolling — for provoking strangers online — have risen. Trolling has evolved from ironic solo skit to vicious group hunt.

It’s a pretty unsettling picture of a Web where it seems if anyone really wants to, they can seriously mess with your life for no other reason than simply because they can. It cites the whole Kathy Sierra (who was Tweeting about the article) affair as well as some of the more headline-y stories that have occurred in the past few years. And while the article suggests that this type of behavior is not yet of a degree large enough to threaten the greater good, it is something we need to be cognizant of.

That the Internet is now capacious enough to host an entire subculture of users who enjoy undermining its founding values is yet another symptom of its phenomenal success. It may not be a bad thing that the least-mature users have built remote ghettos of anonymity where the malice is usually intramural. But how do we deal with…the possibility of real harm being inflicted on strangers?

And, as I was thinking as I read through the article, can we mitigate the extent of those cases by better teaching about social networks and literacies in our schools? I know that on a basic level, none of these behaviors are new, that we’ve always had the ability and, for some, the desire to terrorize one another. It’s the scale thing, again, and the ways in which it’s so much easier to connect to other people and do the terrorizing with them, together, from afar. But I do wonder if we don’t make it worse as a system when we choose to filter and forget the bad parts (and in many cases, the good parts) of the Web with our students.