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“The Internet Is Leaking” is an expression used to describe sightings of online culture references outside of the Internet, which often take the form of costumes, sculptures, foods and printed pictures.
“The internet is leaking, I think. And it’s changing what people see as funny, one broadband connection at a time.”
The phrase “in real life” (IRL) was initially used to describe anything that existed outside of a hypertext environment. On June 25th, 2004, an Urban Dictionary submission by user IceWarm defined “IRL” as an abbreviation “used in internet chat rooms to let people you are talking about something in the real world and not in the internet world.” It later became common to use “IRL” as a descriptor for things that traditionally belonged in the online world, but had made their way into the real world.
On February 16th, 2007, the Zune Boards member Samurai submitted a post titled “The Internet is Leaking,” which included several anecdotes describing people who used Internet slang offline. Samurai criticized the practice, saying that “Internet culture should not enter the real [world].” On May 27th, 2008, the Internet humor site College Humor published a post titled “The Internet is Leaking”, which featured a picture of a flood-damaged residential area with several buildings spelling out the abbreviation “LOL” (shown below, left). On March 19th, 2009, the Internet culture blog The Daily What published a post titled “The Internet is Leaking”, which included a photo of a traffic light button with a sticker for the social news website Digg (shown below, right).
On August 4th, 2011, a post was submitted to the /r/pics subreddit titled “The Internet is Leaking”, which included a photo of an IRL Troll Poster with several Facebook “Like” icons and the phrase “Be the first of your friends to like this post” (shown below, left). The post reached the front page, accumulating over 4,300 up votes prior to being archived. On March 7th, 2012, the single topic blog Passive Aggressive Notes posted a photograph of a printed Schrute Facts image macro taped on the wall of a New York City office (shown below, right).
“The Internet is leaking” has also been associated with the commercialization of Internet memes for use in advertisements or marketing campaigns. On October 26th, 2009, the cartoon cable network Adult Swim displayed a Courage Wolf image macro during a commercial break with the caption “If at first you don’t succeed / you were taught by losers” (shown below, left). On September 1st, 2010, Paul Vasquez, also known as the Double Rainbow Guy, appeared in a commercial for the Microsoft Windows Live Photo Gallery software (shown right).
On March 7th, 2011, a trailer was uploaded to YouTube for the film The Chronicles of Rick Roll, a comedy film about viral video characters adventuring in a fantasy setting. The trailer featured cameos by Antoine Dodson (Bed Intruder, Paul Vasquez (Double Rainbow, Ben Schulz (Leeroy Jenkins), Brian Collin (Boom Goes The Dynamite), and Gary Brolsma (Numa Numa).
The expression is also used to describe Internet-related costumes that have been seen IRL.