The Web Hostess: Online manners, memes and must-see video

Feb 02, 2011

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. We'll get started at 2; just posting this a couple minutes early for reading purposes. First things first:

1) I apologize for flaking out last week. It will never happen again.

2) It will happen again next week. I'll be on a plane, heading back from London. This chat will move to Thursday at 2 instead.


Onto the Internet!

As with the 2009 protests in Iran, this week we've seen the Internet play a major role in the protests in Egypt -- most particularly when the government decided to shut it down. This prompted a lot of people to question -- and me to write an article on -- whether or not the Internet is a human right.


a) Agree. The Internet represents free speech and free assembly, which are human rights.

b) Agree. It is impossible to conduct business or be a functioning member of modern society without it.

c) Disagree. Anything that became available to the public less than 20 years ago it not a human right.

d) Disagree. Human rights should be limited to things like food and shelter.


Also on the Internet:

This week Google announced a partnership with a bunch of museums, allowing unprecedented online perusing of works of art. See Phil Kennicott's take here.

This makes me wonder how the Internet has impacted your culture-viewing experiences. Are you more or less likely to visit museums, now that most objects are available, in reasonable facsimile, online?

Also: The Pope blesses Facebook.

Let's get started.

Have you seen the three Swedish Meal Time videos? They were making the rounds on reddit, blogs, etc. two weeks ago. So bizarre, SO funny.

Wait, are we sure this is not some stealth marketing campaign for IKEA? Because I swear that everything in that commercial IS FROM IKEA.

Whatever. I would still eat those Swedish beets.

I don't think "internet access" itself is a human right, but I think it is *connected* to one--the right of free speech. Just like newspapers and pamphelets during the American Revolution, blogs, twitter, and YouTube are spreading the message today. So in that sense, it could be considered a tool for promoting free speech.

It's interesting, though, how the range of free speech has to increase with the type of media available. Before the Internet/television/etc, audience was limited to how many people you could pass pamphlets to. Before that, it was limited to how loud you could yell and who was in earshot.

Now, it's really become freedom to speak to the entire world.

About two weeks after it was uploaded, this already has 1.6 million views:

This is the dorkiest Lady Gaga parody I have ever seen, and glorious in every way.


Appropriately, this afternoon I am getting on a plane to London for some recon work related to the Royal Wedding. I am sure once I tell the guards at Buckingham Palace that a group of us online regularly pray for the Queen's safety, they will let me in to meet her.


Hey, is this an accurate portrait of your work environment? Is it how things look when you are doing the chat? I hope you have a flat panel monitor by now!

Wow. I had no idea that picture was on that site, meaning whomever posted it there lifted it without permission. (Bad journalistm student!)

1) My dad took that photo when he came to visit the Post. He told me to "look busy." He then posted it on his Facebook wall.

2) That was back when I sat between Hank and the Reliable Source. Now my workpod is Jason Horowitz and Dan Zak. My new desk is much messier.

b) Agree. Although not what I would call a "human right", it is essentially a public resource on par with electricity and water. Although I don't know first-hand how accessible the internet (or electricity or water, for that matter) is in Egypt, so this may not be the right analogy for that country.

I think that's where it becomes difficult to name it a "human right" across the board. In the U.S., at least the affluent parts, we might see it as such. But is it Marie Antoinette-ish for us to deem it that for other countries?

For all the folks who asked about GSTQ (SANHB). It was a riff on the lyrics from the Sex Pistols' song "God Save the Queen" and stands for "She ain't no human bein'", which is the next line in the song. Granted, not very charitable to Kate Middleton's future Grandmother-in-Law, but it's stuck in my head since the Hon. Ms. Hesse adopted the sign-off, and I'm desparately trying to purge it. And for the record, no hamsters (or anyone from New Hampshire) were harmed in the posting of this comment.

Yes! I had several readers write to tell me that, proving that you all are more musically literate than me.

Taiwan has a restaurant built over a garbage incinerator. Wonder if that would work at Blue Plains?

Why is this restaurant called the Star Catcher? Why is it not called the Burning Putrified Waste Catcher?

Human rights are what we decide to guarantee for ourselves by guaranteeing for everyone else without conditions. Sort of like unconditional love.

I think I like the meaning of this. It also seems like it would work well printed on a Wholefoods reusable bag?

I would say that the technology known as the Internet is not a human right, and neither is television or newspapers or any man made device. However, I believe communication is a human right and that no government has the right to force it's people into isolation or prevent them from being heard.

You're illustrating the point that a lot of the Smart People I interviewed for this piece made: that this was about the medium of free speech, not the technology itself.

The United Nations charter of human rights actually has a clause specifying that the right to communicate should not be constrained by borders. It doesn't -say- "Internet," but it seems that's what it's implying.

Dear Cupake, Although I am a fan of the chat, you're off your trolley if you think you can get past my guards. If you even try I'm going to be really cheesed off. Cheerio, Queen Elizabeth II.

Liz! So glad you could join us. Quick question: I just saw The King's Speech. Whatever happened to those rocking horses you and Margaret kept?

It's more than a slogan. It's a way of life. We criticize others, when " We have met the enemy and he is us." Walt Kelly ( Pogo)

Okay, but could Pogo go on a reusable Wholefoods bag?

What about universal health care?

Food and shelter were just examples. The general question still stands.

I'm spending too much time on Facebook. I keep wanting to "like" people's comments in the chat.

When you want to "like" people's comments in real life, you have gone to far. Right now, you're still good.

Are you bringing us back plates or coins with pictures that kind of look like Kate and Will?

I was thinking just the officially sanctioned royal tea towels. My coworker has also put in a request for a case of Fry's Peppermint Creams.

Back when the birds and fish were dying, I searched youtube for info, and happened upon this:  I didn't know what to make of it. Some of it sounds David Icke-like. And I'm open. I mean the universe is infinite after all. And string theory modeling utilizes eleven dimensions. So, the latest is this. I haven't seen it yet. It is two hours long. Thought it may be interesting to those who think about such things:

I had lunch with a string theorist the other day. This pertains not at all to your question, it's just, you know, how many times in one's life can you say that?

Thanks for the links -- I haven't had time to watch them myself, but I'm sure that within this chat, there are those who think about such things.

Sorry, wrong pew. I thought this was serious. Not even good cerebral popcorn.

It was meant to be serious. This chat makes me a little slap happy sometimes, but I really am interested in serious discussion. Serious discussion -and- viral videos.

If I recall correctly from my Libertarian flame wars, our human rights are outlined in the Constitution, which does not include the Internet under the original intent of the Founding Fathers. It might allow for quill and ink. However, our UN human rights are a super-set of our our Constitutional rights. Since Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted the UN rights, we have to ask ourselves, What Would Eleanor Do?

WWED is potentially in the running to supercede GSTQ, but not until after the royal wedding.

I'm also curious to know how opposers justify saying that the Founding Fathers would not have been down with the Intenet. Some of them kept wildly meticulous diaries. Thomas Jefferson, original Tweeter!

This happens to me with all technology. Without thinking I try to cross-apply and then feel foolish. Like when I try to rewind the radio in the car. I'm so used to my DVR at home I now don't pay that much attention when I'm listening to something because I'm used to being able to go back to what was said. I am constantly reaching for the DVR in the morning in the car so I can replay what someone on the radio said.

Love to hear other examples of this -- I thought I was the only one. Well, me and Adam Sandler in "Click."

Is it officially wrong to join Facebook under a pseudonym? If I do so, will the Facebook police evict me?

Officially wrong? People have done it before and not been caught.

Morally is a different story. What would you use it for? If you would use it to stalk the people you already know, getting them to friend you without knowing it's you, then, yes, I would say that it's morally wrong.


Reminds me of WWII being fought on Facebook. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor (Germany and Italy likes this)

Have you seen the fabulous Barack Obama's Twitter Feed on It's marvelous. You must Google  it.

No, the Internet is no more a human right than any other luxury. Everyone is entitled to use the Internet provided they can get access to it, but it is not guaranteed any more than a car, telephone, television, electricity or microwave oven. No one can prohibit you from getting or using one of these, but no one will guarantee to provide you with it. If you can get access (and anyone can go into a library and use the computer there), then it is available to your use. But you must provide the access yourself or someone else (like your employer) must provide it yourself.

Thanks for this well-sorted response. It seems like you're differentiating between "right" and "right to access." "Right" might mean that if you don't have it, someone is obligated to provide it to you. "Right to access" might mean that no one should be allowed to take it away, provided you have it. Is this right?


When you subsistute "Internet" for "food," though, I wonder if the argument actually doesn't become much different.

No one should prohibit you from having food. If you can get it, from a food bank or soup kitchen, then it's there for you, etc. etc.

But not everyone has food. And not everyone gets it who needs it.


Reading back over the recent chats, people were castigating those who didn't use e-mail and/or Internet at work. Really, get out into the real world. There are still plenty of businesses that do not use either the Internet or e-mail at work. Maybe outside of regular work, but not at work. Think about all of the people who do not work at desks, like plumbers, carpenters, electricians, retail sales, mechanics. Then about people who world at facilities without a desk, like nurses, factory workers, seamstresses, machinists. Although a huge portion of our workforce works at a desk, it is very far from all. I still know people who I know will only get their e-mail after hours when they get home. Some occasionally get some e-mail over a phone, but many of those use their personal phone and get personal e-mail, but not work e-mail.

Those are good points, but even many of the jobs you mention -- carpenters, florists, etc. -- still require Internet to conduct business, even if not to complete business. Communicating with customers, filling orders, getting price quotes from suppliers, etc.

Agreed, though, that whole swathes of the population are not tethered to their computers all day long, and they all have better eyesight than I.

No, not a stalker wannabe. Just to keep in touch with a very small number of friends who would know it represents me.

And you don't want to use your full name because then you'll have to deal with a flood of requests from people you will then have to awkwardly decline?

I actually think this is okay. Anyone else?

I didn't post the original question, but what if I join FB using a pseudonym that is known by only a subset of my friends ... and those are the only friends I keep in touch with via FB. I joined FB with the sole purpose of keeping in touch with said friends. Am I inviting bad karma?

Sounds like you and the OP are operating under similar principles. I absolve you.

Y'all don't mind if your food requests come back with an odd bite taken out of them here or there, do you?

I remember (vaguely) in college playing Tetris so much that when I went to the bathroom and looked at the tiles, they would turn into Tetris shapes.

After a scandalous period of Spider Solitaire addiction, I once looked at a friend's face and thought, "Red seven on black eight."

I've cut way back.

as does the range of those liberties. We don't need to limit them to the Constitution...those are just protected differently than other rights. The UN is another body that protects them. Others are inherent. And education, health care, good housing and access to information (aka access to the internet), clean air, clean water are all should be ones that we add. Personally, I thinks it past time to add some of these to our Constitution, but I'm just a federal attorney, what the hell do I know.


Because it would've put a lot of town criers out of business. Seriously, I don't get this argument either -- weren't the Thomas Paine Common Sense pamphlets nothing more than a hand-delivered blog?

I wonder if Common Sense contained ad revenue from Paine's corset shop.

one of my husband's college friends has a facebook pseudonym, something about not wanting "the man" to know to know too much. Its kind of funny because he is friends with all his actually family, friends, etc. He's not trying to be someone else to the people he knows, he just doesn't was fb to know who he is. I don't think that's morally problematic. I think its kind of paranoid but he's a computer engineer or something so maybe he knows something we don't.

Fascinating. One day, your husband is going to get caught up in a complicated situation that will look very similar to the plot of The Net.

"No, I'm Angela Bennett."

-- but the principles of unimpeded association and communication are. HOW that gets accomplished will vary with available technology. Freedom is always a human right--in my book--but of course that doesn't make it universal. I think drinkable water and clean air are human rights, too.

I've run out of responses to these, but they're still coming in and still smart, so I'm just going to post a few without comment.

A human right in the philosophic sense is something that you get in the state of nature, (*cough* bestowed by God). Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. No government is allowed to take it away from you. In this sense the Internet is not a right, but free speech is. The right to own property is problematic, because the Communists don't agree with it. Are there any more Communists around any more? They must be hiding.


On the topic of Facebook - an interesting/scary article about one person who was impersonated on Facebook. If you are not you on the web, then who might be out there pretending to be you? Here's the link:

I hadn't seen that, but now I can't wait to read.

Yes, but if you signed up anonymously for whatever reason, if it ever came out, people would ALWAYS question why you signed up anonymously...what did you have to hide? Who were you trying to avoid? Why weren't they amongst the people who knew? If you don't believe...go and look at the whole deal with Jonathan Price in the Robert Wone case...people used his use of an alias on chatboards to be that he was hiding something and used it to augment their accusations of guilt.

This is an interesting point -- that we expect Facebook transparency so much that we assume something untoward is happening if we don't get it.

The Net or Hackers?

Sandra Bullock's pants. Angelina Jolie's makeup.

I've found that the vast majority of people with my name are, well, just not lookers by any stretch. As a group we are just plain homely.

I think there's solid research to be done here.

Thought process:

The parents who decided to give their children trendy names (Jessica in 1980, Madison in 2000) might be the type of parents who are more attuned to things like fashion, or to keeping up with the Jones's, or to not standing out in a bad way.

They therefore raise Jessicas and Madisons in appearance-centric ways. They get the cute clothes, or the good haircuts, etc.

And as a whole, they become prettier than the rest of us.

Is this nuts?

This was not doubt a request from FourSquare as everybody was trying to become Mayor of Egypt.


I had a friend change her profile to a pseudonym and clean out her friends list because her in-laws were using stuff she posted on Facebook as fodder to judge her. For instance, even the most benign status about going out with her girlfriends on a Saturday night would prompt them to gossip about what a lush she was and how poooor husband was home all alone. Now she's free to post whatever she wants without them breathing down her neck!

Good grief. With those in-laws, I'm surprised she didn't change her address. Her real one.

As much as we'd like there to be and as hard as I'd defend the ones the Constitution enumerates, there are no universal human rights. The only ones you have are the ones you can defend. That's why I'm grateful to live where a good set of rights are given to the citizens. People in North Korea don't have the same good fortune. They can win rights, but the fact that they are currently denied by their government proves that they aren't universal, to me at least.


I was referring to both first and last names, so I'm not sure your theory would fit that.

I still wonder if people with the last name "Smith" don't have naturally higher self esteem -- which might manifest itself in appearance -- than people with the last name Gunkenheimer.


Could have been a bad acid trip.

Or an awesome one.

I've read that (at least) traditional phone calls -- you know, with a phone that's physically connected to a wall jack -- were still possible. Google, Twitter and a voice-to-text dev shop set up a backdoor means to post stuff. Have we really gotten so used to near instant access to information and "people" (quotes, because the bulk of what's thrown into the ether is non-directed) that resorting to a land line call is somehow stomping on our rights?


A friend on Facebook uses a form of her actual name to protect her identity from clients should they look for her (she works in a sensitive field). If, for example, her name was Christine Hawthorne (it's not), she'd use Tina Thorne.

Which, conveniently, she could also probably use if she ever wanted to join up with the X-Man. I don't know what her superpower would be, but it would be very spiky.

I just did this an got a picture of Michael Jackson. ARG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And I assume this is surprising because your name is not Michael Jackson? Is it Tito?

Have a lot of self-esteem. They run on heart power!

I swear, I thought I just made that name up.

... is apparently a Christian radio station in Spotsylvania. GSTQ.

Are we assuming that WWJD was already taken as call letters?

Quick question. Do you think the Internet dating pool consists of the same people in the overall dating pool? I imagine there's no difference, but why do people seem to behave so different when dating people they met online versus in the "real world?"

Save this til next week -- we're out of time, and I think it's an interesting question to come back to. Resubmit, please?

I think it should be. To deprive us of your company every week, Monica, would be a crime against humanity.

You are just trying to get a tea towel.

On that note, I'm signing off. Remember -- next week we're moved to Thursday. Until then, you can email me at, tweet me @MonicaHesse, or stop by Style's Tumblr at

GSTQ an extra large amount this week.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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