A Webmaster’s Rant: We’re getting the internet wrong

On May 1, 2014 by Tim Newman

smashed-computer web rant

I’ve been splashing by brain worms onto the world-wide internubbin for a few years now. I like doing it, not because of the non-existent mass of riches I’ve attained, but because I like showing people stuff.

If I find something that makes me go “oooh!” or “ahhhhh!” or “oh?” or “huh?” I want to pass that monosyllabic response along the chain.

There aren’t really many pitfalls to publishing things online, anyone can do it. It’s pretty much free and there’s no internet police checking if you’re an idiot or not. It’s a free for all. But if you are considering submitting your thoughts to the www for their perusal, be warned, millions of minds doesn’t mean millions of insights.

If you were to write something stupid on a piece of paper and show it to someone, nothing would happen. If you write something so that it appears on a screen in someone’s hand or house, people take genuine offense.

I have a bit of an obsession with this type of behaviour now, what exactly is it that makes perfectly affable, likable people respond like testosterone-fueled rabid badgers?

I’ve got a few ideas and they’re written below, but of course, this is the internet, and I’m just a human, so I’m not trying to pretend this is an exhaustive or even completely correct list. But I need to get this out of my brain, so here we go…

1) You don’t own the internet


Many people seem to think that because they can view the internet from a device in their pocket, it belongs to them. Just so you know, it’s not yours. It doesn’t belong to anyone (yet), and that’s the point. But you do get to control what you see.

Whilst writing my non-news items for Sick Chirpse, where I point and laugh at vacuous Daily Mail celeb stories, I see roughly one million comments from people complaining about seeing Kim Kardashian everywhere. She isn’t everywhere. Not at all. I only ever see her when I’m finding non-news items, and for me it’s like greeting an old friend. If you’re sick of seeing celebrities everywhere, stop looking for them. You idiot.

If you’re sick of seeing my posts in your FB feed, please block me. If you don’t like me as a person, please block me. If you can do a better job at making a website than me (and I’m sure you easily could), then just do it, or simply never visit my site again. You decide on what you see. But you don’t own the internet.

2) Just because you know something doesn’t mean everyone does


The internet is full of rubbish. It’s also full of lies and deceit. There’s a lot of nonsense, drivel and repetition in there too. That’s because everyone is allowed to write on it.

Often people will put comments like this underneath things I’ve written: “old” or “I saw this months ago, you need to pick up your game.” Remember, as I stated in the last point, the internet isn’t yours. Because you’ve seen something, doesn’t mean everyone has, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to look at it again.

People seem exasperated that you’ve released an article into their personal pocket that… SHOCK HORROR…they’ve seen before! Wow, I’m so sorry that you’re going to have to scroll an extra 1cm to skip past it.

3) If I make a mistake, I’m still a human being


If you do make an error when writing, either a spelling mistake, or worse still, a factual inaccuracy, woe betide you my friends. I posted up a fairly thoughtless post about 3D tattoos a while back. My brother sent me a bunch of photos, some were pretty cool, so I reposted them to show people what I’d found. Nothing mind-blowing, I’m not breaking new ground here. It’s called sharing. It’s just some pictures. I’m not attempting to discover new planets, or species, or whatever.

The header image I used showed a woman with a huge blood-shot eye tattooed on her chest. It looked pretty cool. That was the end of it for me. I had literally tens of people look at the pictures and move on without a word. That’s what I expected, but then I received this email:

Just so you know that picture of the “3D chest eyeball tattoo” is actually the talented photoshop work of my friend Alexxanthe Harris with MY eyeball incorporated. You obviously dont do much research and I find this quite offensive. Here is the original picture if you dont believe me.

Offended? What was offensive? Research? I’m not doing a Masters, my dear. (BTW the attached picture of her eye proved nothing).

If I was to say out loud, for instance “Brad Pitt was born in 1962” and someone overheard me they would say, “I think it was actually 1963 mate”.

If I was to write that same sentence on the interwab, the comments would read more like this: “Brad Pitt was born in 1963 DO YOUR RESEARCH YOU F*CKING MORON. I am so SICK of reading YOUR PURILE CRAP” (not my capitalisation).

Personally, I am happy to be corrected if I make mistakes; I’d rather get things right than wrong. I’m certainly not perfect, so a pointer is not a problem for me. I welcome well-measured critique, I have literally no idea when to use semicolons, I need all the help I can get. But chill out with the caps lock you DIV.

4) Choose your battles, choose your forum


I wrote a short article for Sick Chirpse a few months back about the legend that was Alan Turing. It wasn’t a dissertation or a probing in-depth character investigation. It was a few hundred words about a fascinating and interesting man. Sick Chirpse is neither a history journal nor a mathematician’s forum.

As far as I can tell, I’d made no glaring errors and I was quite surprised when I received internet venom… Some guy had a massive go at me saying I missed out loads of information about him and that I didn’t even mention his role in the theory of evolution. I politely replied back that I wasn’t a history major and that 300 words about the great man was all I had set out to do. I didn’t bother to mention that Turing’s input into the field of evolution paled into insignificance against his other work. But whoever this guy was, he was very cross indeed. About nothing.

The problem here is that people forget where they are. For example, if you went to an international forum on Alan Turing and read my article out on stage, you would be laughed at for your sweeping generalisations and lack of detail. You wouldn’t get invited back. If you were to read the same thing to a bunch of 4-year-olds, you’d just get blank faces. Things are pitched to a certain demographic and a certain level. Remember where you are internetters.

At the end of an article I wrote on the awful war crimes carried out at Nanking, someone put a comment along the lines of “that’s awful” – it was a kind of throw away meaningless comment, no thought went into it, it was just a response. Immediately after that comment someone had a massive and scathing rant about how war crimes should be looked at in the context of a battle situation and not judged through the eyes of peace-time judges. It was all fair opinion, but a complete overkill as far as the rage level was concerned.

You can start a post with something like “I found this on Reddit and thought I’d share it with you lot” and get comments slagging you off for stealing it from Reddit. No one has a go at the BBC for getting their new stories from Reuters. Unless you have a dedicated gaggle of worldwide reporters, EVERYTHING is second-hand. That’s life.

5) People think their opinion counts


Your opinion doesn’t count. Mine doesn’t, yours doesn’t, not even Tony Blair’s counts. A good friend of mine posted the following on FB the other day:

As of now I will not be clicking on any blog headline that has this stupid ‘clickable/shareable’ formula:

1. Set up a scene that sounds vaguely interesting
2. Tell me how I will react to what happens next 

‘This couple auditioned for a TV show. What happens next will blow your mind’.

No it won’t, and even if it does you just spoilt the surprise. F*ck you.”

He states that he will no longer be clicking on them. Good for him, he shouldn’t have been clicking on them in the first place if he hates them so much. Not everything is for everyone. Some people like in-depth stuff, some like quick hit jokey things. And some like both. Whatever. And if one person says they will stop clicking, literally no one will care or notice.

Remember, it is not your internet. It’s not yours, no. Scroll an extra 1 inch down and the article’s title that has enraged you so much will disappear. And you know what? Loads of other people will still click on it because none of us make any difference to the world at all, not really.

Now, to follow my own rule here, I realise that I have no control over what people write on the internet, I don’t own it either. So instead of allowing this to enrage me or colour the way I think of fellow humans, I just embrace it like a cold, unforgiving turd.

It’s a weird window onto humanity.

We are spoiled rotten and we don’t even know it. This tool that carries infinite laughter and infinite knowledge has been created within my lifetime and all we can do is winge and squeal like a tiny duckling stuck in the reeds.

If you liked this article and it inspires you to make a T-shirt with a relevant slogan, please try this: “BEFORE COMMENTING LIKE A PETULANT CHILD, SCROLL DOWN JUST 1 MORE INCH AND YOUR RAGE WILL VANISH”.

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