And so it is that I find myself here, offering up some advice to the poor, self-centered, crass, ignorant folk on the internet. Even though doing so may rob myself and other bloggers the entertainment of invoking the Streisand Effect, I feel that there are those who may benefit from some instructive illustrations.
Rule 1 - Think Before You Type
The internet is really a very powerful tool. It allows us to call up information on a wide range of subjects with very little effort. The speed at which things occur online urges us to give immediate voice to our thoughts. Now, our emotional sides simply love this arrangement. They get to dictate our reactions more frequently when we can just type a few words and click a button before the rational sides of our brains have a chance to say, "Perhaps you should pause to reflect a moment."
When you decide to comment on something online, it's a good idea, therefore, to stop a minute to consider what you plan on saying. Start by asking yourself if you actually know enough about the topic upon which you're commenting to, at the very least, avoid saying something incredibly inane. Taking this time to think things through also gives you the opportunity to consider whether your words might be insulting or insensitive to others who are personally affected by the subject.
If you take the time to think before you type, you might avoid saying something rude, ignorant and completely off-base like, oh, this:
|Click to enduncenate.|
If you do find yourself leaving callous remarks like this individual in the comments section of an article in a widely read newspaper, you might end up finding yourself the target of some justified and well-reasoned criticism like this, this or this.
Rule 2 - Don't Go Orwell
Perhaps you make the decision to write further on your Facebook page, maybe even going so far as to laugh at someone who was very upset by your comment. You might say some things like this:
|Click to enboorify.|
The combination of your initial post violating rule 1 and your subsequent posts on Facebook might draw a comment such as this:
|Click to enlightenate.|
Don't do it!
You will only invite further criticism that you are afraid to have an honest discussion, that you censor reasonable questions. In short, you add to your image as a shameless, callous, insulting individual the added bit of being a coward.
Rule 3 - Don't Deny You Said What You Said
The problem with breaking rules 1 and 2 is that, in the age of the internet, nothing is ever truly deleted. You might try to get rid of your original comment, your subsequent comments and the criticism you've received. But, well, just look above to see that someone, somewhere has probably already saved evidence of your nonsense. In light of this, don't try to fend off criticism by saying that you never said what you said:
|It wasn't meeeee!|
When you say stuff like that, you just look even more foolish when evidence that those words you're denying actually did flow from your fingers. Chalk up "liar" to the list of epithets that describe you, should you pursue this course of action.
Rule 4 - Don't Libel Your Critics
You might be tempted to really go off the deep end and start making even more ill-advised comments, ones that actually run close to, if not actually going over, the line of what is and is not legal. For example, you might be tempted to say something that would be considered libelous under your local civil codes (e.g., CA Civil Code 44), like this:
You see, accusing someone of crimes (e.g., stalking and harassing) and sending that message in separate tweets to everyone (or at least a large number, I got tired of getting screen shots after the first 100 separate, distinct tweets that were sent - anarchic_teapot has a storify post with a more complete capture of her tweet stream) who follows your critic on Twitter is what defamation lawyers might consider a bad move. That is acting with the deliberate intent of spreading false statements of fact that damage the image of the target. This behavior is what is called libel. If your target so chooses, they would have a very reasonable case against you, should they decide to pursue a legal suit.
And tweeting that you have reported your critic to the police for stalking/harassment, when they have not done so, is also not a good idea.
At best, you're probably just bluffing, in which case you look like a fool. At worst, if you aren't bluffing and really did file a police report, you may find that you are running afoul of certain laws about filing false police reports (see also 18 USC 1001 - h/t to Squillo).
Hopefully you have a good idea of what not to do on the internet. Violating these four simple rules will almost certainly guarantee that you will become a laughing stock, having your shame spread all over, despite your efforts to bury the whole sordid mess. Remember:
#1 - Think before you post. (i.e., know at least a little about the subject)
#2 - Don't go Orwell. (i.e., don't try to make your own or others' comments disappear)
#3 - Don't deny you said what you said.
#4 - Don't libel your critics.
If you follow these rules, you should be able to avoid a great deal of headache, ridicule and embarrassment later.
This has been a public service announcement from Harpocrates Speaks.