Why Old People On The Internet Are Worse Than 4Chan Can Dream of Being

We hear a lot, on the Internet, about trolls. This is because the Internet is very conducive to being what scientists call “a massive bag of douche.” You also hear a lot about Anonymous and 4Chan, because they like to grab publicity.

But of all the people currently ruining the Internet, there’s one force that we’ve failed to consider as a clear and present danger to our online sanity: Mom and Dad.

It’s time to face facts: our parents are on the Internet, and they suck. For the simple reason that they’ve stumbled into a place with very different social rules — rules that they refuse to abide by.

Who’s getting into lengthy, pointless conversations about politics that devolves into screaming on Facebook? Old people. Who decides to be a raging dick to a total stranger they don’t know? Old people. Who insists on forwarding unsubstantiated chain emails? Old people.

It all boils down to this: for them, the Internet really IS serious business. They don’t get that the political opinions of strangers are completely unimportant to their lives, or that just because somebody say it on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Yeah, it’s annoying on Facebook, but believe it or not, it gets uglier. A lot uglier.

If you live in a rural area, you’re probably familiar with Topix. Topix is essentially a gossip site, aggregated by town, with completely unmoderated message boards allowing for total anonymity.

And how’s that worked out? Well, here’s an example: some woman in Georgia decided to call some guy who may have been a minor douche to her at her retail job a drug-addicted pedophile, and in a few days the guy had lost his home, his job, and his kid. This was just days after his fiancee had been murdered in a unrelated case, by the way.

This is pretty common: Topix has forced people to move, triggered divorces, and in one case driven a woman to kill her three children and commit suicide. It just keeps happening. And this is just one site: there are plenty of other anonymous BBSes out there. Your local paper is probably one, if it’s got comments enabled.

The root of all this is a failure to understand that just because somebody says something on the Internet doesn’t make it true. Nobody on these boards understands that if somebody says something awful about somebody else completely anonymously, that it’s probably unmitigated B.S. And really, it’s because part of them wants to believe it, wants to believe the worst of their neighbors. Small town gossip is always ugly, but this basic failure makes it so much worse.

4Chan, in the end, is built around skepticism and has brakes: they’re more likely to find and prevent a suicide than they are to cause one. But without that skepticism, without understanding that you should think badly of the anonymous, and not the people they’re talking about it, the Internet becomes a much more awful and dangerous place. Something to consider, we think, the next time a politician pipes up about the dangers of hackers.

(Image courtesy rileyroxx on Flickr)