Two rules were taken from "Fight Club": "You do not talk about 4chan (or "/b/," 4chan's random, free-wheeling bulletin board) and "You DO NOT talk about 4chan." One version of Rule 6 stated "There is no Rule 6," which is from a Monty Python sketch. Rule 42, "Always bring a towel," was drawn from Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. (If you have to ask, read the books.) "Profit," Rule 49, came from "South Park."
Other rules went the reverse direction and became part of mainstream culture. Rule 34 -- "If it exists, there is porn of it" -- is likely the most famous. But there's also "Pics or it didn't happen" (Rule 30), "For every given male character, there is a female version of that character; conversely for every given female character, there is a male version of that character" (Rule 63) and, of course, the corollary to Rule 34 -- "If no porn of it exists at the moment, it will be made" (Rule 35).
Most retained a sense of humor, riffing off established rules and occasionally ending with a giggly "No exceptions."
But a handful were, and remain, as serious as a judge -- notably the three directly about Anonymous (commonly Rules 3-5):
- We are Anonymous.
- We are legion.
- We do not forgive, we do not forget.
The overall Internet rules may have started as a joke, but such ominous language from Anonymous speaks to some of the paradoxes of the Web:
Rules? Why do we need some stinkin' rules?
After all, rules can be helpful -- or divisive. They can create community -- or subvert it.
Even Anonymous, the activist group itself, cuts both ways, says Rotolo. When it hacked the extremist Westboro Baptist Church, many people cheered. But when it goes after less unpopular targets, some cry vigilantism.
Cohen says that the rules themselves try to have it both ways. They're funny until someone gets hurt.
They "play more of a game type of role. They can be bent or broken or cheated or moved around, as you would in any game that has no physical reaction," he says. "That doesn't take into account ever the result of real people being affected by this -- such as teenagers, children, anybody who's seeing things that they shouldn't."
He adds, "There's a lot of rules in there that work for (the creators) more than anyone else. Until they become victims of their own thing, they don't know how powerful the rules are."
Evolving from the Wild West
Of course, the Internet isn't that old, and we're still in its Wild West era in many ways. As the technology evolves from a handful of hackers on Usenet bulletin boards to billions of users on officially sponsored sites, the customs -- the rules -- of the Web will evolve with it.
But we're not talking about the kinds of changes that your family makes to the rules of Monopoly (no, Free Parking is NOT for the pool of money acquired via Chance and Community Chest). We're talking something more expansive: All the established customs of our carbon-based life forms, making way for the instantaneous and virtual modes of silicon-based electronics.
Who knows what new rules may be written?
"When you're in the midst of social change, it's impossible to determine where it's going," says Peter S. Vogel, a former programmer who's now a Dallas-based attorney. "And I think we are in the greatest social change in the history of humans, because there are no boundaries of geography or time."
We haven't even sorted out what happens when the differences in local culture meet global technology. Bruce Umbaugh, a philosophy professor at Webster University in St. Louis who teaches a course on philosophy and technology, argues that not all parts of the world are as tolerant or open-minded as Western democracies.