Avast, me hearties! Pick up that QWERTY-cutlass and assume the fightin' stance, cause you're about to get into an argument on the internet. Prepare your body for a beating, sailor, because this could end very badly for you.
It's funny when someone tells you they love the internet because of the increased allowance of communication for people the world over. I can "have a conversation" with a woman I've never met—in New Zealand! Wow, so cool! But I can also "have a conversation" with some fucking jerk off seven miles from me who thinks Parks & Recreation is better than Only Fools and Horses.
The rules of the flame war are always changing. The spats of today aren't at all similar to those our forefathers fought before modems; a changed arena requires a different tact. You can't approach a fight on Twitter like you would one on the street, though ultimately it pays to be a total prick in both situations.
But that shouldn't be too hard should it, prick face? Let's begin:
People don't really go on chat rooms these days. The only time you really see them are on the side of livestreams, both legal and illegal. The legal ones are on things like gaming site Twitch. Adenoidal Americans doing speed runs ofZelda or whatever, and these don't usually breed a lot of animosity as everyone's just posting ASCII cat faces to each other and referencing impenetrable game memes ad infinitum. This is about as close as you'll get to a "safe space" anywhere online.
So that leaves the illegal streams, and, let's face it, most of those are reserved for sports. Boxing matches, football, whatever Americans watch in their spare time—we all want to consume it, but we'll be God damned if we're going to pay for it. Cue a madcap, multi-tab search on all websites in existence for a stream that chops more erratically than a nervous chef. Once you get to it you can relax and watch the game… Or can you?
No you can't, cuz some dilweed is spamming messages about how shit Alex Song is, or talking about "registas" or other things that don't really exist. They're a real eyesore too, these stream chats, as they allow you to choose the color and font of your messages, which is invariably a big serif font in lime green. The reason no one gives a shit about chat rooms any more is that they've been around so long that people have become accustomed to their wiles. No one's impressed by them, and with one click you can hide the whole thing. This means that, luckily, you don't have to engage these types, unless you want a reason to justify your Nurofen addiction, so just zoom into to sporty part until the stream dies and you plunge an ashtray through the screen.
FORUMS & MESSAGE BOARDS
This is where a lot of veterans of cyber beefing cut their teeth. Before micro blogging allowed everyone to act like a piece of shit at a moment's notice, forums were the biggest hornets' nests on the web.
Whatever you're interested in—music, comedy, body building, anime, Nazism, hot sauce, architecture—there's a forum full of anoraks waiting to discuss it with you. The more tame the subject, the less likely it is that personally hurtful zings will be pinged your way. I used to frequent the forum of the urban music magazine RWD, mostly as a lurker. Before it was rendered obsolete by a poor redesign that upset the user base, RWD forummers were party to some incredible incidents: real-life exposures, the posting of nudes and addresses, the continuation, repercussions and serialization of IRL beefs, members hitting on other member's girlfriends, all expressed in the coliseum of the forum's "Whatever" room, away from its much less volatile "Sports" and "Music" rooms.
People on forums can and will become your friends. It's a bit like being in a prison that you voluntarily go to every day, having to make pally with a bunch of people you're stuck there with. But other times it's more like prison in a way that some weirdo will find your IP address and e-stab you by posting your address in a thread entitled "I'm coming 4 u RedRibbon32." Tread carefully.
If you're a white person and you've never been called the N-word in your life and you want to see how it feels, head on over to Xbox Live. Historically, giving a voice to the voiceless has been considered a good thing, but in the case of Xbox Live, giving a voice to children with Xbox Live was a terrible, terrible idea.
Let's face it, arguing with children is the hardest thing to do, because they just don't give a fuck. They don't give a fuck about you, how you feel, what your opinions are, how you formed them, or what degree from what shit Uni you went to. All they care about is calling you a "fag." If Xbox Live children were around during the war they would have been fast tracked to the SS. There is no arguing with these kids, so your best bet is to troll them in whatever game they're playing, do stuff they don't like and make them rage out and cry.
This is where it can get a little weird. Now it's not random Belgians with obscure handles you're calling a twat, it's your aunt's friends, your girlfriend's dad, your best mate's girlfriend. Sometimes the link is tenuous enough that you needn't worry about the repercussions of slating someone with your full government name on show, but be careful: you never know when they might wander into your local B@1. Anyone who's spent any time on WorldStarHipHip will know that Facey-B comments can be serious business. Hair dragged around, sucker punches thrown—Facebook is just real enough for your actual life to be implicated in it. If you see someone post a photo of St. Paul's Cathedral with the caption "The Muslims want to turn this into a mega-mosque" in red writing, don't bother trying to set them straight: they were born and will die idiots. It's better for everyone to just unfriend people like this, until they are left loudly broadcasting their own mental failings to an audience of three people who are also massive racist cunts.
Article comment threads are rat kings of frustration, the biggest pseuds corner in existence. Right now on the internet, hundreds of angry looking middle-aged men with holiday bucket-hat-and-sunglasses avatars are locked in an exchange of treatises on why there shouldn't be a third runway at Heathrow. Not only is this type of beef the most frustrating, it's also the most boring. It's the online fight equivalent of being stuck in a pub with a trekkie and a Star Wars fan arguing about which is better. We all know commenters are the worst people alive, a tiny, annoying voice that demands to be heard. Clock up enough posts and the delusion of grandeur sweeps over them like they're the head of OFCOM and whatever article they're posting under is Honky Sausages. Yes, I'm talking about you, reader! Tell me why you're mad below and I will completely ignore you.
Here she is. The mother load. The life ruiner. Twitter is some dangerous shit, guys. This is the place where it can all end for you. You'd better hope all your jokes and shit are clean from any vaguely problematic content or you could be hauled out in front of the million man jury and condemned to death by deactivation. It may not have the same real-life implications as say, having your router smashed by an angry forummer or an irate uncle on FB, but it can be just as personally devastating.
Imagine: 10,000 people with Pokémon profile pictures calling you a cunt and wishing you dead. You can't even begin to fathom the negative energy. If you get into a small, individual one-on-one beef then you have a chance of getting out alive, maybe even winning. But if you start beefing the wrong person, if you step on Napoleon's shoes, then you'd better prepare for the Grande Armée to find out your real name, home address, every time you've said something untoward since you were 15 and use it to get you arrested. Twitter users are the gigabyte Gestapo, the not-so-secret police that will hound you for your comment crimes if you're unlucky enough to be stupid and crass. Avoid Twitter beefs like the plague.
The internet isn't what it used to be. Once upon a time, everyone understood that the internet was about finding strangers. Everything was left online, but it's all too real now. Tweets make it to the news, screenshots of Facebook threads are posted on fucking Reuters, there's no escape. Your best bet is to fight the old-fashioned way; with a bottle in one hand, a bit of pipe in the other, and a waterfall of expletives gushing out of your mouth outside a cab rank.
Ah, the good old days.
Follow Joe on Twitter.