Web Culture

Internet Relativism: 3 Things People Do Online That Would Clearly Be Wrong Offline

Ben Stegner 11-05-2015

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
– Oscar Wilde

And what a mask we’ve given the world. People show their true colors on the Internet. Ryan revealed the crazy things people search for 5 Things I've Learned About Internet Behavior Through My SEO Work I have a criteria of about 8 to 10 items that I personally look for when I do SEO analysis, but of course one of the most important is search volume. Having monitored the search... Read More that he found in his work with search engines, and there’s a reason that entities want to track you through your online behavior 4 Seemingly Innocent Online Activities That Track Your Behavior Read More .

However, many of the ways people act behind a screen would be despicable, annoying, or illegal in real life. Let’s look at the things we take for granted online, and see how they would likely play out if you took them into the “real world.”



Piracy is rampant on the Internet, a dark practice fueled by deception and malware. Stealing what you didn’t pay for is really easy online, and the boundaries appear to be different – if you steal a movie from a store, they can’t sell that copy to someone else, but if you pirate Photoshop that doesn’t take it away from anyone else. Though piracy can have some good effects 4 Ways Internet Piracy Can Be a Good Thing Let’s open up a can of worms and think about this for a minute: is online piracy really that bad? Read More , we aren’t here to debate it. But what if this kind of theft was as rampant offline?


Since stealing will become such a common practice, most physical stores won’t even try to stop people from doing it. Instead, they’ll have an attendant watching a box near the store’s exit, so people can throw money in for the items they’re taking if they so choose. Of course, there are still some retailers who will insist their product is worth paying for, but most people won’t bother with them. Why would you, when another shop right down the street is likely to let you walk right out with the same item?


Several industries would collapse entirely, meaning lots of people would have no reason to work. In fact, love of the work is really all that remains in most jobs that provide a product. Businesses that provide a service that can’t be stolen, like landscaping, love the spread of piracy offline. Without a price to back their hard work, however, most industries can’t keep up.

License Agreements

On The Internet

End User License Agreements, or EULAs, are all over the place online; you probably agreed to at least one today! From the absolutely ridiculous 8 Ridiculous EULA Clauses You May Have Already Agreed To Here are some of the most ridiculous terms and conditions in the EULAs of popular services. You may have already agreed to them! Read More to those that casually inform you of an incoming toolbar onslaught 4 Annoying Browser Toolbars and How to Get Rid of Them Browser toolbars just don't seem to go away. Let's look at some common nuisances and detail how to remove them. Read More , there isn’t much you can do on the Web without signing your life away. There are ways to understand them more easily 4 Ways to Read and Understand an End User License Agreement (EULA) More Easily EULAs, or End-User License Agreements, are one of the evils of modern life. These are endlessly wordy agreements, usually written in tiny print. These are the things you blindly scroll down, looking for that darn... Read More online, but what if they extended to your offline life?


Logged Off

Can you imagine having to agree to 50-page documents to do everyday tasks? Let’s say you’re in the drive-thru at Wendy’s (ready to pay with your fancy fast-food Android app The 10 Best Fast Food Restaurant Apps for Android Looking for the best fast food restaurant apps? We've found the best Android apps for ordering food and earning rewards. Read More ) and the worker says to you “By pulling forward, you agree to Wendy’s terms and conditions for as long as you’re interacting with our store.” Thinking nothing of it, you’d probably just move on ahead to get your food. Much to your surprise, your small order of a hamburger and fries has grown to include three milkshakes, a smoothie, five desserts, and a dozen drinks.


Indignant, you yell at the guy behind the window, demanding to know how your $4 order has ballooned into a $50 meal. Sighing, he explains, “Don’t you remember agreeing to our terms a moment ago? We reserve the right to add whatever you want to your order and once you’ve left the menu board you’re locked into a purchase.”

Throw in garbage like OpenCandy being used in installers OpenCandy: The Reason You Should Never Just Click "Next" Clicking "next" repeatedly is the quickest way of installing apps on Windows - until you find you installed other programs on your computer without realizing it, thanks to OpenCandy. Let's do something about that. Read More and license agreements online, and you might never figure out what exactly was in those milkshakes you bought.


The Interwebs

This one doesn’t require much explanation; we all know that YouTube comments are the cesspool of the Web 5 Ways To Improve YouTube Comments YouTube's comments section is one of the worst places on the web. On an Internet already full of nonsense no sane, intelligent person would want to spend their time reading, YouTube's comment section stands out.... Read More . Open any YouTube video, news article, or post from a celebrity on Facebook How Do Celebrities Manage Their Social Media Accounts And What Can We Learn From Them Celebrities are the premium fuel of the social media world, and people like you and me just keep burning it. I’m certainly not saying it’s bad thing, though. It’s just a fact! However, have you... Read More and you’ll undoubtedly see some moron posting “FIRST!!!” to prove to everyone that he got there before you did. The comment adds nothing; it simply takes up space and shows that the person really has nothing better to do since their greatest achievement for the day is “winning” a comment “race” that nobody cared about a decade ago when YouTube was founded, let alone now.

It’s not just a YouTube thing, either. Case in point:

In Meatspace

Let’s picture any queue you wait in on a semi-regular basis. Whenever you’re waiting in line to pay for coffee, at an amusement park, playing a board game Three Great Resources For Board Game Geeks We're no longer in a world where a basic board game collection consists of Monopoly, Clue and The Game Of Life (and maybe Risk if you're lucky). No, these days collections often have more of... Read More , or doing pretty much anything else that involves waiting your turn, the person who goes before everyone else has to blurt out “FIRST!” before moving onto his activity. Wouldn’t that be annoying? Multiple times a day, every day, met with sighs and other signs of extreme impatience from all the sane people in the area, including you?

To get a jump on being the first to do everything, these people would jump in an empty line just to shout their stupid claim. Hopefully these people would get a clue and shut up, but if YouTube has taught us anything, we know that will never happen. It’s too bad that you can’t downvote things people do in life…

Taking it Offline

These surely aren’t the only behaviors we see online that would be insane in the real world, but it’s fun to stop and think about the relativism that’s accepted when it comes to the Internet. This phenomenon seems to follow the virtuality fallacy, the mistaken idea that just because something happens in a virtual space means it isn’t real.

Will more online oddities spread to the “real world” as time goes on, or will we curtail these behaviors? Stick along for the ride and find out; it’s anyone’s guess!

Looking for ways to shut down annoying behavior online? Learn how to deal with trolls 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls The Internet is without doubt a great invention. Unfortunately, no one so far has been able to develop and anti-troll device that will help to make it a more civilized place. You might have come... Read More and what constitutes a no-no on Twitter What Behavior Will Get You Into Trouble On Twitter There used to be a time when an employer would laugh at you if you were an avid social media user. Nowadays, employers will think you’re a weirdo if you don’t use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn,... Read More to make sure you can defuse the idiots.

What other online actions would be really awkward offline? What stories could you come up with if these behaviors made it into the real world? If you’re got something to say, leave it in the comments below and let’s keep the list going!

Image Credits: People lining up Via Shutterstock, Pirate via Shutterstock, Man With Food via Shutterstock

Related topics: Software Piracy, YouTube.

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  1. suzybel57
    May 12, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Just the comments, some of the stuff you say online, you'd never, ever say to a person face to face.

    • djsinging
      May 19, 2015 at 10:11 am

      We could - if there was EDIT / CANCEL REPLY / DELETE - which would leave no history / memory / trace of what was said :P

      what we wouldnt do was :P in a conversation. Imagine talking on the company chat board - :P - compared to sitting in a casual conference - suddenly sticking your tongue out - :P and everyone responds with - :X :S :? :/ :( on the caht board what would it be offline lol.. {PS: you cant laugh out loud offline- unless you wanna end up on shutter island}

  2. Doc
    May 11, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    "...three milkshakes, a smoothie, five deserts, and a dozen drinks."
    Which deserts - Gobi, Sahara, Atacama, Arabian and Mojave? Oh, you meant *desserts* - sweets to top off a meal. LOL.
    (And yes, I do tease people about grammar and spelling offline as well.)

    • ...
      May 12, 2015 at 11:57 am

      I would not put it past them to make you purchase 5 deserts. Throw in the Brooklyn Bridge, while we're at it.

    • djsinging
      May 19, 2015 at 10:13 am

      You still cant buy the 5 deserts offline :P

  3. David
    May 11, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Doxxing : sharing the personal details of someone with whom you disagree in the hopes that others will harrass them.

  4. Shade
    May 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Can't say I'm surprised piracy came up in this based on the title, but the analogy is flawed. Stealing implies scarcity, which isn't the case in the 1s and 0s that make up digital files. Making a copy doesn't deprive a person of what they're trying to sell. If a person wouldn't bother getting a copy of a file through legal means because of the cost, is that really a lost sale if the file is copied in some unpermitted way?

    Another topic that might have been amusing for this article is tracking cookies and scripts. I had to allow scripts from 12+ different domains for the site to display, and I'm sure if it weren't for the anti-tracking addons I have, I'd have a number of cookies and the like trying to follow me to other domains.

    • B.E.
      May 12, 2015 at 3:24 am

      Theft implies intent to deprive the original owner of the property. If someone pirates, say, a software, the original owner (the software author) can still use it.
      Many people pirate because they find the license terms too restrictive, or the activation software does not work.
      Pirating is not theft! If pirating is theft, then when people steal cars, both the victim and the thief now have a car.

  5. kt
    May 11, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Trolling: That happens a lot in real life at bars and around the water cooler at work. "How 'bout them Redskins?". (Guy walking by comes over uninvited) "Redskins suck!". Thanks for your input.

    ALL CAPS: I've met a lot of people with no inside voice. I'd put drunks that over emphasize in that category too.

    Great article, fun to think about.

    • Ben S
      May 11, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      You're totally right on trolling! People probably do that just as much offline as on the Internet.

      Thanks for your compliment!