Internet warnings for party animals and everyone else

Internet warnings for party animals and everyone else

The new Consumer Reports serves up what it labels, in big letters on the magazine’s cover, the “7 biggest online blunders.” They’re mostly about compromising the security of your identity, things that can lead to your bank account being emptied, your credit card being enjoyed “off­site,” your computer being debilitated.

The list itself wasn’t online at, but it boils down to notions that are common sense and ought to be second nature by now: Employ and update security software, don’t use the same password for all accounts, don’t think having a Mac is a prophylactic and beware of what you click on, from free software downloads to e-mails that appear to be from your bank to pop-up ads that tell you your PC needs protection.

But beyond the sphere of security, in the more intangible realms where one tries to be a good Net citizen, other common online blunders lurk as well and should be avoided.

1. Posting photos of yourself sloppy drunk, disrobed or both. I want to just type “duh” after writing this because the cautionary tales are so many. But their very prevalence proves the need to elaborate. Because we flit around on it so much, we assume the Web is transitory. But its capacity for data storage and its love of cataloging mean it has a memory any Vegas card counter would die for.

And a future employer, for instance, trying to figure out what kind of worker you would be, will have little trouble tapping into that memory.

“Hire the party animal with no tan lines,” is a credo few companies have adopted.

2. The above also applies to what you write.Take the advice of Dooce blogger Heather Armstrong, who actually makes a living blogging and learned the hard way that it’s best to write as if whatever you post publicly will be read by your parents. And remember that just because you can swear on the Web doesn’t mean you should; it’s almost always more interesting, and better writing, to work to find a synonym for the curse, a more artful way to add emphasis.

3. Engaging with “trolls,” unless it’s to disarm them with humor. That’s the take­away from an article in the Aug. 3 issue of The New York Times Magazine ( on the Internet subculture of folks who love to “intentionally disrupt online communities.” You won’t win an argument, and you might be made miserable.

4. Assuming that because something comes from online culture, it is better than its off-line equivalent. There is, obviously, evangelism _ some of it blind _ going on as the Internet asserts itself into every nook and cranny of our lives. And you’re a cranky old (or young) coot if you try to deny the essential awesome power of the Net. That does not mean, however, that The Huffington Post is automatically better than The New York Times or Chicago Tribune, that an online bank is better than the one with the vault on Main Street.

5. Writing anything negative, or even mixed, about Apple. The psychic energy you’ll expend defending your assessment isn’t worth the chance that you’ll reach even a tiny fraction of the technology company’s legions of true believers. Leave them to their bubble.

6. Failing to stay open to new ways of doing things. Give Firefox a try instead of Internet Explorer. If you can afford it, yes, try out a Mac to see if it really is that much smoother than PC-based computing. Replace that encyclopedia-length list of bookmarks with a good RSS reader (Bloglines or Google Reader will do) that automatically aggregates what’s new on your favorite sites. The Web is nothing if not dynamic, and embracing some of that change will not only make you more productive, but also help you better understand and navigate online culture.

7. Not writing me with other suggestions at: [email protected]