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I am pretty sure that in the future, historians are going to look back and say that the birth of the Internet holds a unique place in human history: it is probably both the best thing man has ever invented and likely the worst.

I was born in 1980, so I grew up just when the Internet was taking wobbly steps towards becoming the monstrosity it is today. When I was a tween/teen, I used to run the telephone wire to my room and block the phone line and dial up the bboards and use Telnet. Honk if you know what the hell I am talking about. But regardless, back when I was doing that, none of us hanging out on those text-based virtual boards could have imagined Facebook, Google, Twitter, Steam, Wikipedia, or any of that stuff. My nieces and nephew, born in the 90s and raised on Facebook and iPhone, don't know anything else.

I am a technically savvy person and I LOVE the internet. It is my playground. An epic series of tubes that leads to epic places and epic people I never would have known about, seen, or met if not for the epic Godzilla-esque mutant creature that is the internet. But being technically savvy means I also have a finely-honed sense of the DOs and DO NOTs. Because as wonderful as it is, it is also one giant cesspool that is ready and willing to suck your lifeforce away if you misstep.

Some schmucks in their fancy suits and ivy-league marketing degrees that daddy paid for have seen many a dollar sign twinkling in their eyes at the vast power and money-making potential of the Intertubes. But as Applebee's and MANY a corporation is discovering of late, you must tread carefully.

Follow me over the fold to find out what I am babbling about.

Today on Facebook someone linked to this great blog that has chronicled the doggy mess Applebee's has unwittingly stepped in and continues to smear all over itself. By now, everyone has heard the tale of the good "Christian" pastor, the snidely stiffed tip, and the Applebee's waitress that got fired over it all:

“Pastor gets server fired” was Chapter One in this strangely entrancing saga, on par with a slow-motion train wreck from which you cannot tear away your eyes. Chapter Two is where Applebee’s apparently wants to commit suicide in front of our digital eyes
I won't go into great detail, you can mosey on over to the blog and read it all yourself, with screenshots included. The gist of it is, whoever runs the Applebee's Facebook page decided to take matters into their own hands, and argue with the Internet (at 3am even). The entire mess generated over 41,000 (that's not a typo, that's 41 THOUSAND) comments on Facebook alone, and the majority of those comments were negative. The result of arguing with the Internet:
The upshot of this is, the Internet is laughing. And Applebee’s is losing a lot of customers. After personally reading thousands and thousands of comments, I have seen businesses and non-profits and families and individuals all say they are boycotting or even canceling reservations or changing locations for regular business lunches and dinners.
In the year 2013, I can't believe there aren't more social media and tech savvy folks at these corporations who should know better. "Pastor gets server fired" should never have become a big deal, because douchebags get people fired all the time, especially in the service industry. If Applebee's had had even an inkling of sense, after the pastor's receipt got on the Internet and went viral, they should have simply written up the waitress for violating the privacy policy and then moved on. Some people on Facebook would have mocked the Christian lady for being a bad person, and then it would have died down. End of story. Waitress keeps job, Applebee's keeps customers, pastor eventually retains her anonymity because trolls get bored when nothing exciting happens. Instead, the franchisee fires the server, and then some idiot getting paid to run the Applebee's corporate page pokes the hornet's nest. And suddenly, forty thousand potential customers have their ears perked at the telltale sound of social justice being denied.

I have two very important points to make, which shall offer some advice for not only corporations, but regular folks like you and me:

1. The Internet is a giant hornet's nest. If you insist on poking it once (or someone pokes it in your name by posting crap about you), step back, accept the sting, and let it die down. If you insist on continuing to poke the nest with a stick, don't cry when the hornets get angrier and angrier. Don't argue with the Internet, especially if the hornets perceive you have violated the unwritten law of human decency and justice.

If you DID do something stupid, take responsibility, apologize, and batten down the hatches to wait out the storm. Now, you may ask, "if the internet is fighting for human decency and justice, why do they act like such turds themselves?!" Because they fight fire with fire. If you are a turd, you will have your turdiness reflected back on you thousand-fold. Don't like that particular mirror and its reflection? Well, that leads us to:

2. We live in a day and age where EVERYONE has a recording device on them. Welcome to 2013, the age of the iPhone. Despite your opinion on the right or wrong of this matter, you need to keep that in mind. As Pastor Bell has discovered, you should endeavor to always act like a decent human being (dare I say it? Like a Christian!) in public. If you don't, your actions will be put before the court of public justice, where millions of random strangers are the judge, jury, and executioners. I am not saying this is right or wrong, I am saying this is how it is. Act accordingly, because there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating for mob justice even when that rage is properly placed. I am, once again, pointing out this is simply the reality of our world. And, don't lie, when Anonymous or the Facebook army has burned down some jackass or some corporation that deserves it, you cheered them on. Heck, without that sort of mob justice, Glenn Beck would still be on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's show wouldn't be bleeding sponsors.

Sometimes, it's someone on the internet that fires an unwarranted shot, and innocent folks get unjustly mobbed. Like when that guy protected those little kids at his house after the Newtown shooting, and Conservatives mobbed the poor dude for doing something really good. Nor am I suggesting that only Conservatives have done this. I've watched many a mob on Daily Kos wreck diarists simply because "the group" believes the following: SOMEONE ON THE INTERNET IS WRONG!!11!!!

Now, as we Kossacks know, the Internet can be a really awesome vehicle for social change. There's another diary about this Applebee's mess that has spawned a great deal of really good discussion about how shitty the service industry is to work in. About how we really need to do away with this nonsense of tipping, and just pay servers a living wage and let tipping be truly, genuinely optional for exceptional jobs well done. That is a fantastic goal to push for.

We saw the power of the Internet with the 2012 election. Heck, we saw it in the 2008 election. So much so, that our beloved party is going in circles raging about the Obama campaign not wanting to release the marketing and Internet vehicle used to make El Presidente a two-termer. We have seen, time and again, what power We the People have now that we can actually all get together and spur fellow human beings to action. Petitions, blogging, political fundraising, and so much more happens here, at this website alone, on a daily basis, and it's happening everywhere.

We have also seen children kill themselves because they were outed as gay on Facebook.

The Internet is great. And the Internet is awful. The best and the worst of us as human beings.

Take these lessons to heart, Corporations and Individuals. And if you don't, well... then don't cry when you get stung in the ass.

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