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7 Ways to Make Yourself Look / Sound Like an Idiot On the Internet (and How to Avoid it)

Updated on May 8, 2013


While the Internet is known as a great equalizer, and gave voices to individuals, there is always a trade-off. The instant communications capability also enabled people to make utter fools of themselves on the Internet.

Think about it: once you posted something on the Internet, you probably will never be able to retract it, and it will live in perpetuity until it was so uninteresting it can't be found any more. Thus, doing something stupid CAN and WILL come back to haunt you, esp. on the Internet. Once you hit send, there is no turning back.

Here are seven ways to really make a fool of yourself, and lived to regret it forever since.

Post Unflattering Information About Yourself

Some people are so addicted to social media, they even posted their employer's warning letter (warning the guy to stop spending so much time on Facebook), on Facebook! Charlie Barrow was so addicted to Facebook, he spends 4 hours a day on it... AT WORK, while he's working for Goldman Sachs traders in the UK. When he got a warning letter from his HR department telling him to spend company time doing company business, he announced it ON Facebook! So Goldman Sachs was forced to let him go.

And now, Mr. Barrow will forever be known as "The Man Who Loved Facebook Too Much".

Lesson learned: there are limits to social media participation, and announcing that you're being reprimanded for social media addiction is over the line

Send Your Photo to a Stranger, when you have secrets

Everybody remembers the story about Congressman Chris Lee... who resigned over "Craigslist Scandal" in 2011. But what really happened?

A woman posted a relationship ad on Craigslist, and some men responded, including Congressman Lee, though he did not reveal his real status at the time, but claimed to be a divorced lobbyist. They corresponded, and a picture he sent here was him half-naked (nothing obscene). When she tried to look him up on the Internet, she quickly found out who he really is... and he is married. She sent the picture and the ad and correspondences to Gawker, and the rest was history.

Lesson Learned: If you have something to hide, a photo will reveal you to the world, and you can never keep a secret on the Internet, when something can be spread just by a click.

Claim to be Something You Are NOT

If you claim expertise in something, and use that to support your claims, you better REALLY have that expertise and can prove it, or somebody on the Internet WILL find out, and you will be severely embarrassed.

Some vaccine deniers in Australia, out to spread untruth about childhood vaccines, prefers to be called "doctor". What she doesn't tell you is her doctorate is in micropaleontology, or "study of small fossils", not medicine. So what made her qualified to talk about vaccines? Nothing other than books she wrote herself. She's one circular argument! She's an expert in vaccine because... she's an expert in vaccines!

When Australian 60 Minutes pointed this out and asked if she can be wrong, she walked out of the interview, on camera.

In China, 12 "experts" who touted various remedies and therapies on TV commercials were outed as NOT experts, but just amateur actors.

Lesson Learned: with easy access to information, any claim can be verified, and if there is any misrepresentation, people will find it.

Create Fake Profiles Of Yourself

Everybody knows LinkedIn, where professionals go network. They claim to have millions of profiles. What you may not know is it prohibits fake information in their profiles, but lots of people do put in fake stuff any way, such as a FAKE photo.

What's even more stupid is the profile owner claimed he (?) had the right to use the image of a female doll (really!) as his profile pix, until he was reminded of the LinkedIn EULA. (NOTE: original website went offline, so I'm linking you to WayBackMachine's copy)

In fact, I wrote an entire article on fake LinkedIn profiles and how to spot them.

Lesson Learned: Don't fake your profile, or someone will find out.

Argue With Outdated Information

When you're trying to defend something, you better make sure whatever you are citing or claiming to support your side of the story is correct, else, you will simply embarrass yourself and defeat your own side.

I have a hobby in scam busting, and it is a lightning rod for comments from people attempting to defend the scam. This is expected, but it is quite amusing to observe these people argue without citing proper information. Here is one example, actual comment on Hubpages (scroll to the end to see it and my reply). The commenter repeated referred to outdated information (award in February 2011, and magazine article) when I have newspaper article stating that the the award is likely a fake, and Indonesian business license for this scam was revoked August 3, 2011.

Lesson Learned: while "debating" on the Internet, make sure you have the facts and evidence to back up your side before posting, or you'll just sound stupid

Argue with Intellectually Dishonest Debate Tactics

On the Internet, people seem to find all sorts of causes to discuss and argue about, and when emotions run high, and due to relatively anonymous nature of the Internet, people tend to use unethical debate tactics, sometimes known as "derailing". Two of the most often derailing tactics are red herring, and ad hominem attack.

Red herring is simple: raise an issue that's NOT related to the actual topic. For example, raise questions the other side's qualifications, even though the other side did NOT use his own qualifications to support his side of the story. Thus, the qualifications are irrelevant, and attack on qualifications is a red herring.

"Ad hominem" attack is even simpler: it's just name-calling, describing the other side in as negative terms as possible. Scammers often call scam-busters "dream stealers", for example, when the scam-busters explained that the scammers are giving bad advice to others. The "name-calling" essentially proves that the attacker cannot attack the evidence or the logic of the other side, so the attacker must resort to attack the opponent directly.

For a more formal (and non-parody) look at intellectually honest and intellectually dishonest debate tactics, I'll refer you to John T. Reed's website.

Lesson Learned: when you argue with intellectually dishonest tactics, you'll get burned for it

Posting While Incapacitated

If you wouldn't drive while incapacitated, would you get on the "information superhighway" whle incapacitated?

Yet people stay on the net while bleary-eyes, drunk, angry, blinded by love, etc., suffered momentary lapse of judgment, hit post / send, and post stuff they regret ever since.

It's gotten to the point that Google introduced in 2008... Mail Goggles, that makes you answer a few questions before it will let you send that e-mail, to make SURE you really really want to send it and whether you have the mental capacity to send the e-mail.. And in 2009, it even added an "unsend" feature.

However, such measures are merely aids to help you maintain self-control. Don't post that thing UNTIL you are SURE you want to.

Lessons Learned: Don't post or send stuff while your intellectual capacity is diminished.


Internet is all about information, both good and bad, and they all travel at incredible speeds. Furthermore, what's on the Internet stays virtually forever, thus ensuring any mistakes you commit or regret will live on forever, and we have documented seven ways this can happen.

However, with simple precautions, you can enjoy a life on Internet free of embarrassments (mostly).

So be careful out there.


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    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 

      7 years ago from Aurora

      Great hub. Being an old-timer on the Internet, I have sent e-mail I later regretted--too much verbiage is ineffective. Be short and to the point. Sleep on anything even mildly controversial.

      The stupidest e-mail I ever got was from a grad student to the entire Math Department I was supporting and was a dirty joke. Unreal!

    • SlyMJ profile image


      7 years ago

      This is excellent. It should be taught in school, college, university and on IT courses for the public. Everybody should read it, in fact, though not enough will. Top-class advice written with style and humour.

    • RTalloni profile image


      7 years ago from the short journey

      Great post. Hope it gets many readers!

      Voted up and useful--wish there was an "important" category!


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