“Dude, the Internet’s not a real place. It doesn’t matter what people say on there.”

– someone who spends 90% of their life on the Internet

Almost 20 years ago (oh god, it’s been almost 20 years), Penny Arcade proposed the “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory,” stating: Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad. Many veterans of the “old internet” have since held up this theory as a truism of human nature, applying it to more than just the video game community. Because of course, early 2000’s internet was just chockful of edgy teenage (as well as unfortunately adult) boys being unrepentant assholes to everyone and everything at every opportunity. But they were so well-behaved off the internet; surely it must be the anonymity that spurs them to become so insufferable?

Anyway, I’d challenge the assumption that these “fuckwads” were “normal persons” in the first place – at least, if we’re defining “normal person” as “decent non-shitty folk.” Because, and I’m speaking as a lifelong lurker myself, there were plenty of other anonymous people on the internet who didn’t become obnoxious, bigoted harassers, no matter how big a potential audience there was for such misbehavior. I would suggest, perhaps, these “fuckwads” had been fuckwads the entire time and just needed an opportunity to show it.

I should also mention that, 10 years ago (oh god, it’s been 10 years), Penny Arcade provided a corollary to the aforementioned theory: Normal Person – Consequences + Audience = Total Fuckwad. I do find the adjustment to “- Consequences” to be a more precise representation of the idea. I would agree that, when protected from consequences, most people would behave worse in many scenarios than otherwise. But I would still contest the “Normal Person” part of the equation. Call me an optimist, but I don’t agree with the Joker-esque philosophy of “everyone’s just waiting for their chance to be a shameless asshole.”

– James