Internet law

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The Internet has led to the development of a burgeoning field of legislation wherein amateur lawmakers seek, in the manner of Murphy's Law, to glibly describe certain aspects or observations regarding internet behaviour in general and, more specifically, debates and discussions on Usenet groups and internet forums.

Warning: Internet law tends neither to be logically rigorous nor evenly applied. It often commits fallacies. Invocation of individual laws is usually a time-saving device used to prevent one from being dragged into an argument with someone who will under no circumstance alter one's own opinion.

Internet law is not to be confused with the rules of the Internet, which are mostly about porn and memes.

The Laws[edit]

This is a brief overview of the laws. For examples, see the linked articles.

  • Badger's Law - states that any website with the word "Truth" in the URL has none in the posted content.
  • Danth's Law - states that anyone who declares themselves victorious has probably done so because they've lost.
  • DeMyer's Laws - an argument that consists primarily of rambling quotes isn't worth bothering with.
  • The Dull-man Law - in any discussion involving science or medicine, being Dana Ullman loses you the argument immediately…and gets you laughed out of the room.
  • Godwin's Law - states that any discussion, given enough time, will involve comparisons to the Nazis.
  • Gore's Law - any discussion about environmentalism will inevitably lead to mentioning Al Gore, followed by irrelevant bashing.
  • Haig's Law - the worse a website looks, the more likely it was made by a crazy person.
  • Poe's Law - without a blatant display of humour, it is impossible to make a parody of extremism that someone won't take as real.
  • Scopie's Law - citing webshites in an argument makes you lose it.

Aside from those, these are some of the generally known laws which are less popular:

Cleek's Law[edit]

Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.[1]

Cohen's Law[edit]

Cohen’s law is

The likelihood that any unmoderated group will eventually get into a flame-war about whether or not to have a moderator approaches one as time increases.

First cited in Clay Shirky’s A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy talk at Etech 2003, Geoff Cohen restated it in his blog the next day.

Another Cohen's Law was formulated by Brian Cohen in June 2007 and states that:

Whoever resorts to the argument "whoever resorts to the argument that... has automatically lost the debate" has automatically lost the debate.

The law is an obvious reference to people dismissing arguments just because someone made a particular argument (such as with DeMyer's Law). So, anyone who can't refute a point and has to rely on declaring victory because their opponent made a silly argument is liable to be in no position to actually win a debate. Cohen's law can be extended to immense amounts, such as

Whoever resorts to the argument that "whoever resorts to the argument that ... "whoever resorts to the argument that ... "whoever resorts to the argument that ... "whoever resorts to the argument that ... "whoever resorts to the argument that ... ... has automatically lost the debate" ... has automatically lost the debate" ... has automatically lost the debate" ... has automatically lost the debate" ... has automatically lost the debate." has automatically lost the debate.

Since the law recurses infinitely (that is, it can contain itself infinitely), it consists of "Whoever resorts to the argument that ... has automatically lost the debate" wrapped around the law itself, and therefore can be simplified as "Whoever resorts to Cohen's Law has automatically lost the debate".

But this also leads to the situation of "Whoever resorts to whoever resorts to Cohen's Law has automatically lost the debate has automatically lost the debate"; such is the nature of infinite recursion. Drawing a parallel to truth and provability in systems of formal logic is left as an exercise to the reader.

Cunningham's Law[edit]

The best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it's to post the wrong answer.

This idea is a motivator behind people adding to wiki software, which Ward Cunningham invented.[2]

DarkShikari's Theorem[edit]

DarkShikari's Theorem was created by Y Combinator NewsWikipedia user DarkShikari on 23 December 2009 to describe 4chan's /b/ board:[3]

This has led to the follow theorem of mine, which describes /b/ perfectly: Any community that gets its laughs by pretending to be idiots will eventually be flooded by actual idiots who mistakenly believe that they're in good company.

The theorem is often improperly attributed to René Descartes,Wikipedia[4] despite returning no Google results before 23 December 2009[5] and only achieving notability on Google Trends in 2012.[6]

Jordy's law[edit]

Coined by Skeptics.Stackexchange user Jordy to describe the fact that when two or more people are arguing on the internet, neither will admit defeat: the argument will continue until all but one participant stops responding.[7]

Seeing as nobody reacts to my comments while the downvotes remain, I hereby propose a new internet adage: discussions aren't settled on the internet, it continues until there is one man standing. Or alternatively: discussions on the internet are a battle royale. The person left probably thinks he won the argument, the people who quit probably thought it wasn't worth the effort.

The law states that any argument on the internet is pointless as it is never resolved with a clear victor.

Layne's law[edit]

Coined by software developer Layne Thomas, Layne's law of debate states that: A) every debate is over the definition of a word, B) every debate eventually degenerates into debating the definition of a word, or C) once a debate degenerates into debating the definition of a word, the debate is debatably over. A notable example of this law may be the arguments over the definition of "assault weapon" in the gun control debate.[8]

Law of Exclamation[edit]

The Law of Exclamation is an internet law that states:

The more exclamation points used in an email (or other posting), the more likely it is a complete lie. This is also true for excessive capital letters.

The law has been observed for some time now, but was first reported on by the awesome staff at The first recorded mention of the law in its present form was in an article by Lori Robertson on March 18, 2008.[9] The theory was originally conceived in response to numerous viral emails of questionable accuracy. Early tests have shown the law to be accurate enough to begin a full fledged Internet law campaign. It is possible that the law is related to or descended from Terry Pratchett's field test for insanity, in which an increasing number of exclamation marks from one to five indicates increased separation from reality, with five exclamation marks being an infallible indicator of the speaker or writer being "someone who wears his underpants on his head."[note 1]

In the presence of "!!!!!!11122" or "!!!!oneone" or even "!!!!!!123.14159," the odds that a story is completely false go up from "pretty damn likely" to "a fact so certain that it violates the philosophical stance that you can never fully prove anything." Hopefully.

Exclamation marks and capital letters are also commonly joined by insistences that a story is true. Phrases like "this is true, it ACTUALLY HAPPENED to me!!!!" or "This is SPOOKY!!! I thought it was just an urban legend, but it isn't!!!!" will be familiar to anyone who's ever opened an email from their mother and found their forehead on collision course with their keyboard.[10] This is quite similar to Danth's Law in that declaring something to be so doesn't necessarily make it so.

Munroe's Law[edit]

Similarly to Jordy's Law, Munroe's Law states:

You will never change anyone's opinion on anything by making a post on the Internet. This will not stop you from trying.

Named after xkcd author Randall Munroe; The law is a simplification of xkcd 386 that observes the human nature of how easy it is to get involved in frivolous arguments with other internet users. It is somewhat similar to Jordy's law about the uselessness of said arguments, but Munroe's law is more about how said uselessness is not an obstacle to prevent debates.

Pommer's Law[edit]

Pommer's Law is an interpretation of how ubiquitous idiocy is on the internet. It was proffered by Rob Pommer in early 2007 at RationalWiki 1.0. It states:

A person's mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be: From having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.

This law has a few exceptions, of course. Some people may well find extra information on the internet that counteracts their prejudice and turn it into something more positive and based in reality. However, Pommer's Law is a commentary on the amount of shit out there and the number of people who will believe it at the drop of a hat, which is probably a far, far higher figure.[note 2]

There is one way, however, to have these "exceptions" actually prove the law: when someone's opinion is swayed from "wrong" to "right", their former compatriots and holders of the previous opinion think that they have indeed turned to the "wrong" opinion.

Shaker's Law[edit]

For more see Leaving and never coming back

Shaker's Law states that:

Those who egregiously announce their imminent departure from an Internet discussion forum almost never actually leave.

In other words, contributors who made a considerable public song and dance about their exit from such a forum rarely leave and remain after all, thriving on the attention they receive. It is thus an example of hypocrisy. Note that Shaker's Law does not cover the situation of a poster claiming "I'm not going to be able to post because it will be physically impossible" (due to such causes as travel, going to prison, work or school commitments, or (in rare cases) possible impending death), as all of those carry an implication of the departure either being purely temporary or conditional.

Like Godwin's Law and Poe's Law on which it is modeled, it can be considered a deliberate exercise in memetics.

Shaker's Law is an adage formulated by a Richard Dawkins forum contributor known as Shaker in 2006/7. Shaker's Law subsequently became popularised via several related atheist internet forums including Thinking Aloud, Rationalia and Rational Skepticism.

Skarka's Law[edit]

Skarka's Law pretty much sums up the world of the Internet Hate Machine and all who sail in her (as well as the existence of neo-Nazis). It states:

On internet messageboards, there is no subject so vile or indefensible that someone won't post positively/in defense of it.[11]

It was first coined by user Gareth-Michael Skarka.

Some such posters believe what they say, others are testing the water and others still are, well, just waiting for a bite. On the other hand, what one person considers vile might seem reasonable to another. And there are some really nasty people around too.

The (relative) anonymity of the Internet is doubtless a psychological factor in this.

Shank's Law[edit]

Shank's Law is internet shorthand for a common response to the logical fallacy of Argument from authority. It states:

The imaginative powers of the human mind have yet to rise to the challenge of concocting a conspiracy theory so batshit insane that one cannot find at least one Ph.D holding scientist to support it.

Proponents of conspiracy theories often attempt to lend their swivel-eyed nonsense credibility by citing the "findings" of one or more Ph.D professors. However, they fail to appreciate that the fact that a person holds a Ph.D doesn't necessarily mean they aren't crazy. [12]

See also Nobel disease.

Skitt's Law[edit]

Skitt’s Law is a comment on the pedantry of some internet users.

Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself
or more generally
The likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.

Basically, people who try to issue corrections (particularly spelling and grammar) are likely to commit the same offense themselves, usually in the actual post where they're making the correction. In a malicious sense, this is a declaration of hypocrisy; in a less malicious sense, it's just Murphy's Law — that if you're going to correct someone's typo, this will be that one, inconvenient, and embarrassing time you actually make a typo yourself.

It derives from the user "Skitt" on alt.usage.english, mentioned first in a message back in 1999.[13] It then got out into the wild following the three billionth time the thing about "ignoramii" not being a real word cropped up on the internet. Skitt's Law also has a guise in "McKean's Law," named after Erin McKean, which focuses entirely on spelling or grammatical issues: "Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error."[14] This is also called Muphry's Law, a misspelling of "Murphy's Law".

Observational evidence of Skitt’s Law leads to the following corollary:

No matter how carefully or how many times you read your post, you will not notice at least one spelling or grammatical error until after you click submit.

Anyone who has published a book, submitted a dissertation or thesis, or had work printed in a peer reviewed journal will be well aware of this.

Time Cube Law[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Time Cube

The Time Cube Law states:

As the length of a webpage grows linearly, the likelihood of the author being a lunatic increases exponentially.

Named for the Time Cube webpage, which is both really long and absolutely raving.

While Time Cube is a well known example, there is a tendency for people who are nuts or have obsessions over all manner of things that are blatantly wrong to go on about them at extreme length, repeating the same thing, often in a new and even more incomprehensible manner further down the page.

Thus, any website or article meeting these criteria is immediately compared to the original Time Cube site.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. From the Discworld novel Maskerade: "What sort of person," said Salzella patiently, "sits down and writes a maniacal laugh? And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head. Opera can do that to a man."
  2. A non-expert in a given field may have trouble distinguishing between (read: see no difference between) valid, plausible arguments and ones that are pure fantasy and fly in the face of the evidence. In the words of Umberto Eco:
    If I have to do a search on Plato, I have no problem immediately identifying the sites written by madmen, but if I am researching stem cells it's not certain that I can identify the wrong sites.
    —Umberto Eco