The 3 Rules Of The Internet

By B.J. Mendelson 

I realized this week that I gave up my only shot at having kids. This is probably for the best. People like me shouldn’t reproduce, and given that I think children should receive regular dropkicks from their parents to keep them in line, I think many of you would agree.

That being said, if I had kids, I wonder what I would tell them about how to use the Web and the Internet. Since we’re now letting social media experts like Amy Jo Martin give parents terrible advice on that subject, it occurred to me that as a former school teacher, I should probably chime in before she and others do too much harm.

So, with that in mind, I would like to present what I think should be the three rules governing everyone’s behavior on the Internet. I know. It’s not the actual “Rules of the Internet” from that site Reddit steals all its jokes from, but those were never meant to be taken seriously anyway.

The 3 Rules Of The Internet

Like any good set of rules, these are left entirely at your own discretion to figure out how you’re going to apply them. They’re easy enough for a toddler to understand, and obvious enough that adults will look at this and go, “Duh. Why didn’t I think of that?” The answer? You did, you just never said it out loud. But remember that common sense ain’t so common, and sometimes the obvious stuff should be said out loud for that reason.

Rule #1: Don’t Believe Everything You See or Read

It’s true. Although I’m a practitioner of Radical Honesty and can’t lie, not everyone is like me. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention to this column, we’ve established Colleen Hartman at Mitsubishi is a liar, Social Media Expert Gary Vaynerchuk is a liar, and Nick Bilton at The New York Times may not necessarily be lying, but he’s certainly pushing his agenda on you in a deceptive way.

I often hear when talking about social media experts: “Who cares? Everyone lies.” Yeah? I’m not ok with that. And since we’ve apparently lost the ability to think critically, I think if we’re going to put down some actual rules to tell our kids, and each other, about the Internet, one of them should be a reminder that you can’t always accept what’s being presented to you at face value. In fact, your default setting should be to doubt everything until it’s verified by other sources.

Rule #2: Don’t Post Anything You’ll Regret Later

This one is key for kids, and it’s the thing the personal branding gurus have been preying upon since they re-emerged from the marketing blackhole that was the ‘80s. For those of you who don’t know, personal branding is a BS term, just like social media and content marketing, that was made up to sell old ideas in new ways. In this case, personal branding is just a repackaging of the advice given out by Dale Carnegie in 1936. The only difference? You can get Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People for free at the library, and Amy Jo Martin is charging parents $40 per class for the same information. (And if you’re too lazy to go to the library, the Wikipedia entry for How To Win Friends and Influence People expertly summarizes the book for free.)

This rule is pretty self-explanatory, but here’s the bottom line: If you teach your kids about personal responsibility, then personal branding is a totally inconsequential thing because by practicing personal responsibility, a lot of the personal branding stuff goes without saying.

Rule #3: Don’t Be A Jerk

You might be thinking, “but you do it all the time!” Well, no. I go after a very specific set of people who are intentionally hurting and taking advantage of others for their own benefit. I call them The Asshole Based Economy. This group of people has received a pass from the press, because they’re in on the scam too, and the FTC doesn’t want to bother with them. Because I feel they are hurting others, and nobody is really trying to stop them, I’ve taken it on myself to come after them and, with luck, inspire you to do the same. This is not an act of bullying, and this is not being a jerk, this is doing the right thing and looking out for others, which is the only thing I’m convinced we’re supposed to do for each other on this Earth.

So unless you find yourself in a similar situation, you should follow what I call the Golden Rule of the Internet: Don’t be a jerk. It’s simple. It’s easy. And it covers pretty much everything. Plus it’s kind of fun to say, right?

So don’t be a jerk and spread the word about these rules. Tell your kids not to post anything they’ll regret later, and don’t believe everything you see and read. If you follow these rules you and your kids will be just fine, and I’d like to think mine would have been too.

Image by Cartoonresource.