The Modern Rules of the Internet
(The “Revised Russo Translation” with study notes)
by Chris Russo, April 1, 2009
When eponymous laws (i.e rules, theorems and principles named for someone) appear with a Rule, refer to Internet Laws and Universal Truths found elsewhere.
–Rule 0: There is no Cabal.
Which can be interpreted either as “Stop seeing conspiracies around every corner” or “Even if there was a secret Cabal who controlled this forum/Wikipedia/The Internet, no-one would admit to being on it.”
–Rule 1: Remember the Human
What you see is text appearing on your screen. It’s very easy to get mad at text appearing on your screen. It’s easy to misinterpret the text appearing on your screen. What you must remember is that there is a living, breathing person on the other end of that text. If you wouldn’t say something to that person’s face, don’t say it to them on the Internet. Remember that there’s a human on the other side.
–Rule 2: The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. (Gilmore’s Law)
Information wants to be free. Those on the Internet will work to keep information free. If a copyrighted image is taken down, it will be mirrored off a dozen other servers in Finland. If a video is pulled from YouTube, it will pop up on Metacafe.
This rule also encompasses all references to Anonymous’ Project Chanology, as that series of protests was triggered by the Church of Scientology’s attempts to censor You tube.
–Rule 3: For every opinion there is at least one equally loud and opposing opinion.
–Rule 4: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. (Godwin’s Law)
Association fallacies are almost as frequent on the Internet as ad hominem fallacies. And, at least in the Western cultural consciousness, Hitler is the ultimate baddie, on a par with or surpassing the devil himself. So the likelihood of a Nazi-related-association-fallacy happening in an online discussion is already quite high. In an argument of infinite duration, it becomes an inevitability.
–Rule 5: Never attribute to malice or conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. (Hanlon’s Razor)
People say hurtful things on the Internet. It may not be because they mean to be hurtful–most of the time it’s just because they’re idiots.
–Rule 6: One cannot argue with stupid.(Callahan’s Principle)
Inevitably, when someone comments with an off-the-wall, untenable, or distasteful viewpoint, some well-meaning soul attempts to argue them out of it. Don’t. There’s a point beyond which a person becomes immune to reason.
–Rule 7: Don’t feed the trolls.
A “Troll” in Internet parlance is someone who is deliberately provoking argument, being purposely insulting, or just trying to derail the conversation off-topic. Arguing with a troll is purposeless, as it is what they want. Deleting them, blocking them, or ignoring them is far more productive than arguing with them.
–Rule 8: The intensity of an online argument is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue. (Sayre’s Law.)
–Rule 9: The passion in an online argument is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available. (Benford’s law of controversy)
This is why flame wars can spring up over relatively insignificant issues, or issues that have no definitive answers.
–Rule 10: Those who are most eager to share their opinions are more likely to be those whose opinions are of least value. (Campbell’s Theorem)
Alternatively: stupid people shout the loudest.
–Rule 11: With every post/comment in an online conversation, relation to the original topic decreases.
The Internets have a hard time focusing, it seems…
–Rule 12: The likelihood of a post or comment being read by others decreases with every page of posts/comments that comes before it.
For a exaggerated example of this, watch TheologianCafe’s blog. If you get your comment in on the first page, people may respond to you, and you can get a conversation going about the issue. If you get your comment on the second page, one or two people may reply (if it was a really really good comment). If you get your comment on the fifth page, you may as well be talking to yourself.
–Rule 13: The likelihood of a post or comment being read by others is inversely proportional to the amount of time you spent writing it.
You could call this the “Too long, didn’t read” principle. Often expressed in the popular list of Rules as, “All your carefully picked arguments can easily be ignored.”
–Rule 14: The likelihood of a post or comment being accidentally deleted is directly proportional to the amount of time you spent writing it.
If I write a six-page blog entry, and hit Submit, it’s far more likely to encounter a bug than if it was a six-word Pulse.
–Rule 15: The likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster. (Skitt’s Law)
–Rule 16: Any post written to correct editing or proofreading will itself contain an editing or proofreading error. (Muphry’s Law)
Grammar Nazis need to beware violating the very standardized rules they defend.
–Rule 17: Without a deliberate indication of humor, at least one person will mistake any parody for the real thing. (Corollary of Poe’s Law)
–Rule 18: Without a deliberate indication of humor, it is impossible to tell some instances of parody from the real thing. (Corollary of Poe’s Law)
How many times have you seen people on the Internet getting angry because of “facts” they found out in an article in the Onion? The original text of Poe’s Law states that “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.” And true, fundamentalism parodies are very like the real thing. But the concept has since been expanded to include all parodies.
–Rule 19: It is impossible to criticize an individual, group, institution or product without simultaneously advertising for them.
If I tell you how much I can’t stand the practices of Fred Phelps, it makes you want to find out about who Fred Phelps is. So you Google his name. See? I’ve just advertised for the very thing I’m criticizing. In extreme cases, people have become more popular due to their detractors.
–Rule 20: Lurk before you leap.
If you’re new to a forum, a board, a blogring or the like, keep quiet until you’ve gotten your bearings. Read old posts/comments. Find out what topics have already been talked to death.
–Rule 21: It is preferable to post in an existing thread than to start a new thread on the exact same topic.
Use the “Search” function. If there’s already an ongoing conversation about what you want to talk about, join that conversation rather than start a whole new one.
–Rule 22: There is no topic so thoroughly covered that somebody won’t bring it up again.
…but it shouldn’t be so. If use of the “Search” function shows you that the last time anyone had this conversation was in 2003, don’t start posting in the 2003 thread. Most of those people are probably no longer on the board/blogring/forum, due to the transient nature of Internet communities. You’ve resurrected a dead thread, and no-one will thank you for it.
–Rule 23: What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet–forever.
If something gets put on the Internet, it never goes away. If you post a picture but then later take it down, it’s too late: someone could have copied it to their own harddrive, mirrored it on another server, emailed it to twenty other people. And heaven help you if it goes “viral.” You’ll never hear the end of it.
Consider this a warning to anyone who plans on someday running for office.
–Rule 24: On the Internet, one is only as anonymous as one allows oneself to be.
Some people are afraid of ever posting, blogging, or talking on the Internet, for fear of stalkers finding out all about them. The truth is, with the exception of a few hackers (who could get all your info anyway), people will only find out as much about you as you yourself reveal. They won’t know what you look like unless you post a picture. They won’t know your street address unless you put it up somewhere.
This is simultaneously something that should make you relax, and something that should give you pause. Have you ever revealed your hometown in a blog or forum conversation? That’s out there now, someone could find it. Have you ever posted an incriminating picture of yourself? That’s out there now, someone could find it. “Loose lips sink ships,” the old saying goes.
–Rule 25: As anonymity increases, likelihood of incivility increases. (Russo’s Theorem)
Have you noticed that some of the biggest trolls on Xanga have Friends-Lock on?
When you’re anonymous, it feels like you can say anything you want without repercussions. Perhaps it starts with talking to people more scathingly than you would in real life. From there it escalates, until one day you’re one of those YouTube commenters who calls everything “gay” and is shouting “TITS or STFU” at every female you encounter. All because you’re anonymous, and because nobody on the Internet can give you a beat-down the way people would if you acted this way in real life.
–Rule 26: Never take the identity of another for granted.
That hot girl on Facebook might really be a forty-year-old man. That forty-year-old man on your favorite forum might really be a snot-nosed twelve-year-old. That snot-nosed twelve-year-old on craigslist might really be an FBI agent.
–Rule 27: Neutrality is valuable.
To have a website carefully consider both sides of a controversial issue is a treasured thing. Neutrality is the closest to Objectivity we humans seem able to reach. Editors have been trying to hold Wikipedia articles to the standards of neutrality for years now.
–Rule 28: Neutrality is finite.
There are issues about which it is impossible to be neutral.
–Rule 29: Viable, successful Internet memes will be passed on.
Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to refer to cultural elements which progress through a population in a gene-like fashion. The Internet has enabled memes to spawn and spread with unprecedented rapidity. Past memes include LOLcats, Rickrolling and the Chuck Norris jokes.
When a meme begins to spread successfully, there is no stopping it. It doesn’t matter whether you are annoyed by the lack of proper grammar in LOLcat’s captions, or whether you find the Chuck Norris jokes condescending. As long as the meme remains viable, it will be passed to the rest of society, with or without your help.
–Rule 30: An Internet meme only remains viable so long as
[People who are encountering it for the first time] > [People who have encountered it before]
Dawkins said that there are criteria to determining whether a meme will be successful: coherence, novelty, and simplicity. However, as John Carr points out, “As Internet memes succeed, they become inherently less novel, therefore less likely to continue to succeed.” Thus, when less people are encountering a meme for the first time than there are people who have already seen the meme–essentially, when its growth slows–its success has outpaced its novelty, it ceases to be funny, and for all intents and purposes becomes “dead,” or an “oldmeme.”
–Rule 31: When one transmits a meme after it has been declared nonviable, one opens oneself to ridicule.
Just try posting the Chuck Norris jokes or try RickRolling somebody now, and see what happens. Their time has passed, and continuing to transmit an oldmeme is akin to dressing in 1970s disco clothing to a job interview.
–Rule 32: If you can imagine it, someone has imagined it already.
It’s hard to be original with six billion other people also trying to be original. There are only so many possible plotlines, only so many ways to do a floral centerpiece, only so many arrangements of musical notes that are mathematically possible. Original content is one of the Internet’s most rare and precious resources.
–Rule 33: The good screennames are already taken.
You’ll have to resign yourself to adding a string of numbers on the end. Sorry.
–Rule 34: If you can imagine it, there is porn of it. (Yokai’s Law)
Calvin and Hobbes porn? Thomas the Tank Engine slash fanfic? Nekkid people playing guitar in the shower? It exists.
–Rule 35: If you can imagine it, and there is NOT porn of it, porn will be created. (Munroe’s Corollary)
A scary thought.
–Rule 36: The Internet devours both concentration and time.
I really think that, in order to maintain concentration in the Digital Age, you have to… oh, hang on… heh. They made a YouTube video turning the song “All By Myself” into a song about Obama. Heh. Oh hey, look, this link brings me to more videos. Hah, check this one out! Oh man, that’s so cool…
–Rule 37: 80% of everything is crap. (The 4 to 1 rule)
80% of all email is spam. 80% of all website content is copy/pasted from somewhere else. 80% of all websites are ads. 80% of all forum posting is flaming. 80% of all blogs are Twilight-reading-Jonas-Brothers-loving-teenaged-girls
–Rule 38: On the Internet, all expressions, common phrases, and common nouns will eventually be reduced to acronyms.
IMAO, this POS EOCE explains Y miscommunication runs rampant in cyberspace, KWIM?
–Rule 39: Go not to the Internet for counsel, for it will say both “Yes,” “No,” and “Ask somewhere else.”
When multiple people are answering one question, expect multiple–and conflicting–answers. Just look at any entry in Yahoo! Answers to see it for yourself.
–Rule 40: Nobody ever ignores what they should ignore on the Internet. (Reimer’s Reason)
Really, if we ignored the people we can’t stand instead of flaming them, there would be a lot less drama for all concerned.