It’s not entirely accurate to say the Internet is just a series of cables, computers, and other electronic bits and pieces. From among all the countless individual Internet users, there occasionally coalesces a collective living, conscious being. For now, we’ll simply call that being The Internet. The Internet has a long reach, a hard punch, and an incredibly well developed sense of moral indignation
1. Self-Inflicted Wounds
This January, a Massachusetts car dealership had a bit of a disagreement with a delivery driver about a tip on a $42 pizza order. They paid the tab with two $20 bills and two $5 bills. The driver assumed the change was his tip: the dealership disagreed, calling him back after he had already left to return the change. They threatened him, and discussed trying to have him fired. Worse, the dealership posted video of the encounter online. Warning: the video contains some salty language.
The Internet was most displeased by this behavior. Views of the video increased until the dealership removed it from YouTube, but The Internet does not forget. Word of the incident spread via social media and online publications. Negative reviews for the dealership began to pile up on Yelp and Google: the current rating on each is 1 of 5 stars, the lowest possible rating. The dealership apologized to the restaurant and the driver, but The Internet’s wrath was not sated.
2. Humor Always Wins
Smart people and businesses have a rule: don’t provide creative people who have the opportunity to mock you with the motivation to do so. There is no logic you can argue, no statistic you can show that has the power to rebut a funny joke or catchy tune. So in 2009, United Airlines should have known better than to break Dave Carroll’s guitar.
The Internet awoke from its slumber. Within one week the video had more than a million views, and significant news coverage from The Wall Street Journal, BBC, CNN, CBS, and elsewhere. And it was all because the airline refused to repair a $3,500 guitar that its employees had broken. The negative reaction was so extreme that the Harvard Business Review used it as a case study that “supports the notion of the Internet as an insurgent medium, better at attack than at defense.”
3. Turnabout Is Fair Play
In 2009, a judge sentenced Alan Ralsky, the “Godfather of spam” to 51 months in federal prison for multiple counts of fraud and violation of the CAN-SPAM act. But years before the U.S. government had its say in the matter, The Internet came up with its own punishment. Ralsky was a known spammer, and The Internet used its deductive powers to find him and send him literal truckloads of junk snail mail.
4. We Will, We Will Mock You
One of The Internet’s specialties is using shame to right wrongs, or at least feel better about being wronged. One laptop thief wronged the wrong man: a tech-savvy victim. The owner was able to access his computer’s built-in camera, see the thief making videos of himself dancing, and posted one of those videos online with the title “Don’t steal computers belonging to people who know how to use computers.”
The Internet loved it, watching the video over two million times, adding almost 3,900 comments full of ridicule, shame, and scorn. The tactic was effective: the thief turned the laptop into the police and wrote an email apology to its owner, asking him to take down the video. The owner posted that apology on Reddit, where it earned even more unsympathetic, biting comments.
Don’t Poke the Bear
There are countless other examples of The Internet applying its collective justice to more serious matter, like helping track down criminals via social media. One thing is clear, though: it’s infinitely better to have The Internet working for you than against you.
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Photo by Vero Villa/Flikr