Welcome to the Internet…

No matter how many articles, news segments, books, web sites, infgraphics, or rumors that warn people about the perils of the Internet, people still flock to this magical Mecca thinking it will bring great entertainment, answers, or whatever else (porn). While I have been in InfoSec for most of the last 20 years, this post is not to warn you about the evil hackers and cybercriminals lurking in every tube. You are basically fucked; your information will be stolen at some point and you will likely be unwittingly involved in fraud. This post is to help you cope with the rest of the Internet. The message forums, mail lists, social media platforms, and comment systems on everything from Youtube to your favorite shopping site.

On a slightly more serious note, you have likely read about incidents of suicide due to “cyber-bullying” [1] [2] [3] [4]. While the news headlines are dramatic, emotional, and full of sorrow, a few fundamental truths continue escape most people. First, a more rational study on so-called “cyber-bullying” finds it is rarely the only thing that caused someone to commit suicide. Second, there is absolutely no comparison to be made between real-world bullying and online bullying. A kid goes to school everyday and may face a bully. There are no alternatives, they can’t just choose to go to another school. Day in and day out, they are forced to be close to the bully. There is also a level of physical intimidation or outright battery against the kid that cannot be compared to a text-based insult. The over-used and ignorant term “cyber-bullying” forgets that if someone is in a confrontation online, they can simply turn the fucking computer off. If someone is in a confrontation and opts to stay online, one must question why. Many adults will stay in the fray because they want the abuse. Either to dish it out themselves, as an outlet for their own frustration, rage, or hate, or because they are a glutton for abuse and fascinated by what these anonymous strangers can serve up. All this hype over cyber-bullying is just that; hype. It may be the straw that broke a few camel’s backs, but it isn’t the root cause of any issue.

On to dealing with the heathens on the Internet! First, understand you are outnumbered, outgunned, outlasted, and most certainly outsmarted. There are legions of people out there that have a single hobby, trolling you. Second, now that you know this, you can be better prepared. Third, there are some rules and laws of the Internet that will help you survive, and flourish. No, these are not actual laws on the books, not found in law libraries, not argued in courts. They exist in a higher power on the Internet; the unregulated masses that somehow manage the content when it suits their needs, along with common sense and just the way humans are wired.
These laws and guidelines will let you navigate this cesspool more safely. These range from the amusing, but true, to the more serious that should have you thinking. Knowing these laws like you know the back of a Twinkie label will help you enhance your calm and traverse the cyber-Wild-West©®™.

Poe’s law:

… is an Internet adage reflecting the idea that without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.

In the real world, you have hundreds of cues in conversation that you likely aren’t aware of, or do not give thought to. Tone of voice, body language, facial expression, or previous minutes of conversation. Together, they give a whole subset of context that allow you to distinguish between humor and a serious argument. In short, sarcasm relies on these cues. If you can’t distinguish between the two, how does it affect your interaction?

Godwin’s Law:

It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin said that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.

Hitler and Nazis are offensive! They are the devil! So of course someone will degrade to comparing you or your argument to a dictator and leader of a regime that was responsible for the death of 11 million people. Basically the same, right? That logic is equally infuriating, and they know it dumbass.

Rule 34:

Generally accepted internet rule that states that pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject.

A Christian rock band dressed as panda bears with little armadillos singing K-pop but dancing to trip-hop while running around stage? Somewhere, someone is jerking off to it. If that exists and is offensive, think about it in the context of your argument and your feelings.

Skitt’s Law:

Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself.

Don’t even bother trying to correct someone’s mispelling or grammar. As soon as you do, another person will correct an error in your correction. Instead of looking smart, you will look ironical and dumb. Note: This is also known as Muphry’s Law.

Pommer’s Law:

A person’s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be: From having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.

Perhaps the greatest threat to society, the sheep we’re surrounded by, will read and believe anything and everything, especially if it suits their existing bias. One well written argument, no matter how wrong, can influence many.

Law of Exclamation

The more exclamation points used in an email (or other posting), the more likely it is a complete lie. This is also true for excessive capital letters.

YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE THIS BLOG OK?!!! YOU KNOW I AM RIGHT!!!!!1!!

Danth’s Law

If you have to insist that you’ve won an Internet argument, you’ve probably lost badly.

I’d also include people that don’t so much insist, as they do try to convince you. Some spend more time trying to convince you that they won the argument, than actually presenting facts or arguing the original issue.

Dunning–Kruger effect:

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.

I know, I got all fancy on you with psycho-babble, but this is an important one. In very simple and blunt terms, stupid people are not only stupid, they are unable to realize this. They think they are smarter than other people, and as such, are unable to recognize or admit their own mistakes. This is why you will argue with an obvious moron, and wonder if s/he is really that stupid, or trolling you.

Online Disinhibition Effect:

The core concept of the Online Disinhibition Effect refers to a loosening (or complete abandonment) of social restrictions and inhibitions that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction during interactions with others on the Internet.

This can be boiled down to an age-old insult that strikes to the heart of the matter. “You’re an Internet tough-guy!” This concept is why the 13 year old scrawny geek living in a basement can not only stand up to a muscle-bound jock with a social life, but why one can enrage the other. Put another way, on the Internet, no one knows you are a dog This is also known as the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

Occam’s razor

Occam’s razor .. states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

For those of you prone to get into arguments on the Internet, remember this one. Conspiracy theories are all over, some more spectacular than others. This is also good for people who tend to believe anything. No, that Nigerian prince won’t really send you a billion dollars.

Collective behavior:

I’ll leave this one to you. Read the link, which is very academic, and consider it in the context of the words “collective behavior”.

—–

With these rules, laws, and guidance, you are now prepared to withstand the perils of the Internet.


Shortly after publishing, loyal readers pointed out additional laws could, or should be included. Courtesy of Lisa Boals:

Wheaton’s Law

One of the core messages of Wheaton’s speech was the importance of sportsmanship in online gaming, which eventually became encapsulated in the phrase “don’t be a dick.”


Reading a magazine weeks later, ran into another that I forgot to include in this piece. Selective perception allows people to read a rational discussion with facts, and still ignore opposing viewpoints.

2 thoughts on “Welcome to the Internet…

  1. As always, I appreciate how you aren’t afraid to bring to the table somewhat difficult social topics to discuss.

    I agree that it is easy to turn off the computer when confronted online (well easy for us older types who remember a life before the internet). A lot of social media sites will allow you to block comments and lock down profiles if you are of the sensitive nature. That works great for dealing with trolls.

    However, bullying isn’t always binary i.e. physical world vs cyber. There is also bullying which crosses over both mediums, and that’s probably the most tricky one. i.e. someone is being bullied in school, and those bullies then go home and continue to torment via cyber channels. Even if the person has blocked them, they will no doubt hear about this from their peers in school so the individual probably will be impacted.

    In short, I guess I’m saying that dealing with pure internet trolls is somewhat easier than dealing with bullies who utilise ‘cyber’ as part of their arsenal. Traditional bullying is where the real attention is still needed, and like you say less focus on the buzzword of “cyber-bullying”.

  2. Absolutely. My core point was that online trolling/bullying is rarely, if ever, the sole reason for suicide. There are always other factors. It may be clinical depression stemming from other factors in life, or as you point out, a mix of real world bullying that carries over online, giving the impression to the victim that it never ends, or its “everywhere”. I agree with that absolutely. My gripe is with these overnight experts claiming that online bullying is a sole-source reason, or suggesting that people have no recourse to online bullying. That is a load of shit.

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