PROTIP: Press 'i' to view the image gallery, 'v' to view the video gallery, or 'r' to view a random entry.
The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (GIFT) is a postulate which asserts that normal, well-adjusted people may display psychopathic or antisocial behaviors when given both anonymity and a captive audience on the Internet.
On March 19th, 2004, the webcomic site Penny Arcade published a comic titled “Green Blackboards (And Other Anomalies),” which featured a drawing of a green blackboard with the equation “Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad” in reference to behavior seen in the 2004 first-person shooter Unreal Tournament.
Similar behavioral patterns have been observed in the anonymous usage of Citizens’ Band radio, a short-distance radio communications device widely used by truck drivers to find well-stocked fuel stations and share traffic information. On February 20th, 1978, a New Yorker magazine profile piece on talk show host Johnny Carson mentioned that CB radio conversations can include disturbing amounts of racism and masturbation fantasies resulting from the lack of accountability.
A few months later in June of 2004, psychologist John Suler published an article titled “The Online Disinhibition Effect”, which posited that social restrictions found in face-to-face interactions are loosened during communications on the Internet. In the article, Suler described “benign disinhibition” as the expression of secret emotions, fears and wishes and “toxic disinhibition” as the malicious behavior that results from understanding that one’s actions will not result in any meaningful consequences.
On October 6th, 2004, the first Urban Dictionary definition for “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory” was submitted by user v1cious, which included the equation from the original Penny Arcade comic. On December 6th, 2005, Ars Technica forums member Me@Home posted a thread titled “Find this Penny Arcade comic!”, which asked other forums members to help identify the original GIFT comic. On June 3rd, 2006, Redditor DavidSJ submitted the comic in a post to the /r/reddit.com subreddit, which received more than 160 up votes prior to being archived. On December 27th, the webcomic Xkcd published a comic titled “YouTube” as a commentary on the lack of intelligent or civil dialogues in YouTube comments (shown below). On December 30th, actor Will Wheaton published a blog post about the xkcd comic and pointed out its similarity to the Penny Arcade comic.
On April 2nd, 2008, the gaming blog Gamasutra published a post titled “Fixing Online Gaming Idiocy: A Psychological Approach”, in which gaming designer Bill Fulton mentions the theory while outlining his experience with griefers in Microsoft’s 2007 game Shadowrun. On October 31st, 2009, the Internet humor site Cracked published a post titled “Misogyny”, which listed the GIFT as a cause of why misogyny occurs online. On August 8th, 2010, a TV Tropes page for “GIFT” was created, listing the theory as an example of the “Invisible Jerkass” trope. On March 9th, 2011, the news site Slate published an article titled “Troll, Reveal Thyself”, which argued against the use of anonymous commenting systems.
Wheaton’s Law is an internet axiom which states “don’t be a dick.” The axiom was coined by American actor and writer Richard William Wheaton III (Star Trek: TNG) during his keynote speech at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in August 2007. One of the core messages of Wheaton’s speech was the importance of sportsmanship in online gaming, which eventually became encapsulated in the phrase “Don’t be a dick.”