Once upon a time it was possible to be anonymous on the Internet. You were free to browse poorly-made websites and say whatever you wanted without fear of reprisal or backlash.
But today, the Internet has become the universal tabloid.
During the days prior to the Internet (gasp, who remembers what that was like?) a person could do or say something stupid and it would remain a joke between them and their friends.
If you fall over in the street and are unlucky enough to be filmed doing so, chances are you will find infamy somewhere in the dark corners of the Internet. Without you even knowing, you could have been the subject of entertainment for millions of viewers who all saw you fall over in the street.
Viral videos such as these will move on and be forgotten about within days. Your office will suddenly receive a new video, perhaps a cat running in to a screen door, and your street-falling antics will become history.
The Internet loves to find something to complain about. The video of you falling may have given them a chuckle for a minute, but if you had been pushed, then the longevity of your fame may be extended.
The story of Mary Bale is absolute testament to this. One day in 2010, while walking through her neighborhood, she saw a cat on a wall. Mary fussed the cat innocently enough, but out of nowhere she suddenly opened a trashcan and dropped the cat inside before carrying on down the street.
Unluckily for Mary, she was caught on camera. While the cat was later found in good health, the same could not be said for Mary. Once the video hit the Internet a worldwide hate campaign began, labeling Mary as ‘evil’ and ‘twisted’. She lost her job, became the arch nemesis of cat lovers everywhere and received countless death threats.
While Mary’s actions are certainly not to be condoned, she didn’t exactly invade Poland.
This is how the Internet, with a little help from the tabloids, comes into it. While under normal circumstances a story such as this would have made little more than an afterthought in a local newspaper, Mary Bale’s cat trashing actions caught the attention of the masses and within hours she was trending on Twitter and the focus of hundreds of Facebook groups (a huge number of which still exist).
That mob mentality had managed to turn a mild-mannered old lady in to one of the most hated people on the Internet. Such a mindless, silly moment had instantly banished her to a lifetime of internet infamy.
Then there is the story of Charlie Morgan, a ball boy at a soccer match in the UK. Charlie was unlucky enough to hold on to the ball a little longer than the players would have liked during a particularly tense final few minutes of a match. As a player kicked the ball from Charlie’s grasp and subsequently dismissed from the game, Charlie is suddenly skyrocketed in to internet infamy and gains 100,000 Twitter follows in just three hours.
The ubiquity of the Internet, and the human desire for something to ogle, means these relatively minor incidents are catapulted on to our screens for all to see. With social media being a major part of our every day lives, you will be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t at least have an account. Internet anonymity is becoming rarer by the day, so if you say something a little risqué and it is picked up by the wrong people then you may find yourself the butt of the joke.
Professional boxer Curtis Woodhouse was once reported to have hunted down somebody who had goaded him on Twitter and went as far as tweeting images of the streets he was prowling and threatening to knock on every door until he found the culprit. Naturally, internet infamy followed the perpetrator.
But it isn’t always news that makes its way to social media – sometimes it can be the other way around. It is now commonplace to see celebrity e-scuffles make headline news, and even more frequently we’re reading stories about celebrities and their encounters with ‘trolls’.
It is these so-called ‘trolls’ who so often spread the vitriol to begin with, and sometimes their propaganda can become fact. Justin Bieber had to call out to his fans as trolls had succeeded in trending ‘#cutforbieber’ and certain die-hard ‘Beliebers’ had gone as far as believing it was true and tweeting pictures of their own evidence. Needless to say, those fans gained instant notoriety online.
It is becoming increasingly more frequent for companies to filter job applicants by searching social networks. The last thing you need when applying for your dream job 5 years down the line is for somebody to Google your name and saw you once dumped a cat in a trashcan.
Then you’d wish you simply fell down in the street.