- We are legion.
- We do not forgive, we do not forget.
The overall Internet rules may have started as a joke, but such ominous language from Anonymous speaks to some of the paradoxes of the Web:
Rules? Why do we need some stinkin' rules?
After all, rules can be helpful -- or divisive. They can create community -- or subvert it.
Even Anonymous, the activist group itself, cuts both ways, says Rotolo. When it hacked the extremist Westboro Baptist Church, many people cheered. But when it goes after less unpopular targets, some cry vigilantism.
Cohen says that the rules themselves try to have it both ways. They're funny until someone gets hurt.
They "play more of a game type of role. They can be bent or broken or cheated or moved around, as you would in any game that has no physical reaction," he says. "That doesn't take into account ever the result of real people being affected by this -- such as teenagers, children, anybody who's seeing things that they shouldn't."
He adds, "There's a lot of rules in there that work for (the creators) more than anyone else. Until they become victims of their own thing, they don't know how powerful the rules are."
Evolving from the Wild West
Of course, the Internet isn't that old, and we're still in its Wild West era in many ways. As the technology evolves from a handful of hackers on Usenet bulletin boards to billions of users on officially sponsored sites, the customs -- the rules -- of the Web will evolve with it.
But we're not talking about the kinds of changes that your family makes to the rules of Monopoly (no, Free Parking is NOT for the pool of money acquired via Chance and Community Chest). We're talking something more expansive: All the established customs of our carbon-based life forms, making way for the instantaneous and virtual modes of silicon-based electronics.
Who knows what new rules may be written?
"When you're in the midst of social change, it's impossible to determine where it's going," says Peter S. Vogel, a former programmer who's now a Dallas-based attorney. "And I think we are in the greatest social change in the history of humans, because there are no boundaries of geography or time."
We haven't even sorted out what happens when the differences in local culture meet global technology. Bruce Umbaugh, a philosophy professor at Webster University in St. Louis who teaches a course on philosophy and technology, argues that not all parts of the world are as tolerant or open-minded as Western democracies.
"There are a lot of other places in the world that are actively using the technology of the Internet to control the free communication among citizens, and to identify critics of the government and hurt them," he says. "We need to be mindful in what we advocate from our perspective that the tools that are implemented on the Net are tools for the global Net."
In other words, citizens of other countries already face actual, enforceable rules -- unlike the folkways established by Web users in the West. Witness the frictions of the Arab Spring, or the restrictions of societies such as North Korea.
It's the kind of perspective that provides a different context for the issues raised by a libertarian, anything-goes Internet. It's hard enough to stop "Star Wars" comment boards from devolving into flamebaiting, meme-generating files of NSFW Yodas.
So for now, we're still making our way through the Series of Tubes, and nobody knows where the boundaries lie. We joke, we grimace and we marvel at the creativity of the hive mind. The Internet is a big place, and countless cultures have set up residence. Eventually, what is now humor may lose its zing; what are now customs may become laws.
Will the rules ever become The Rules? Maybe some future generation will figure out the true guideposts of Internet life, and the singularity will be upon us.
Nah. It'll never happen.