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The Internet Never Forgets

You need to stop being a jackass. And I mean yesterday.

Know why?

No one is going to let you get away with it anymore.

Today, whether you’re an individual or a large business, you need to treat people exactly the way you want to be treated. Better than that, even. A force has emerged that encourages the golden rule and punishes transgressions against it better than any social or religious system previously devised.

As usual, I’m talking about the internet.

Let’s step back in time to January of this year. Mass Effect, one of the best and most successful gaming titles of 2007, trickled back out into the awareness of ignorant people who don’t actually play video games. This, of course, means that Fox News had to get a piece of this action.

To discuss Mass Effect, they invited pop psychologist Cooper Lawrence to appear on-air. She villified the game, indicating that its overt sexuality would train boys to view women as sexual objects.

The only problem is that Mass Effect doesn’t contain any overt sexual themes or even nudity. The game includes an optional side-plot that culminates in a less-than-racy sexual encounter. That didn’t stop Cooper from running her mouth. Speaking after the appearance, Cooper said,

Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography. But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of ‘Lost’ that are more sexually explicit.


But it was too late. I’ve written before about how passionate constituencies carry powerful messages online. There is perhaps no more passionate a group than those who play video games. Long misunderstood and unfairly stereotyped for their interests, gamers have built vast communities for themselves on the internet. Trumpeting the call to battle against Cooper Lawrence, the gamer response was swift, vicious and very public.

Hundreds of negative reviews poured into the Amazon page for her latest book. Discussion forums, news aggregators like Digg, and every tech-savvy blog under the sun buzzed with indignation. This was, gamers felt, an unjustified attack on a supremely talented game developer who had provided tens of millions of hours of enjoyment to so many.

Cooper recanted and expressed regret for her remarks. Shitstorm over.

Yet there are longer lasting effects. Nearly half a year later, scars still cover Cooper’s online presence.

Although hundreds of obviously abusive 1-star reviews were purged by Amazon, 68 still remain on her book’s page. Amazon is as much a product research tool as it is a sales channel. Cooper has lost countless opportunities to sell her book thanks to this gaffe.

The more telling after effects come when searching “cooper lawrence” on Google. Her third search result is the above Game Politics article that dryly reports that Cooper Lawrence is someone who is not too particular about speaking without first knowing her facts. She says so herself. Below that is a charmingly-titled YouTube video, Cooper Lawrence is a Bitch. Counting her Amazon book, her first page of search results contains seven negative entries. That first search engine impression is 70% negative.

Think about that.

Now, being a firebrand and stirring up controversy thanks to genuine, well-considered opinions can be good for one’s career. There’s plenty of negative response that can come from that online. That’s not what we’re talking about here. This is someone being very publicly and brazenly ignorant, pretending to be an authority and then getting caught without a fact to stand on. That hurts your credibility, which hurts your ability to sell yourself.

Mass Effect is a good game and a proud achievement. Over a hundred people worked very long hours for a very long time to ship it. Millions more people bought it and loved it and felt a debt of gratitude to the developers whose toil had so enriched their lives. Then Cooper Lawrence showed up and very publicly slurred it.

And she’ll never do it again.

If you do things that are unkind to others and you do them publicly, just remember that the internet is watching.

It never forgets.