We all know that modern internet forum users, unlike your average social media frequenter, are skeptical and they often dismiss extraordinary claims as fabrications. We all also know that these platforms - and their cousins (imageboards, IRC rooms and the like) for that matter - often have a diverse and constantly shifting userbase, which makes it pretty much impossible to know who's really who and to assess whether anyone's aforementioned fabrications are really just that.

Let's suppose that in a possibly far future, when humanity has all but abandoned their mortal bodies and uploaded their consciousness to the great net of things, criminals (actual and supposed) are punished by the government not by confining them to material boundaries but by relegating them to parts of the network where they cannot access their society anymore - that is, the past.

All offenders are sent back in time to inhabit a previous incarnation of the internet without being able to influence it beyond what is allowed to a normal user of that period of time (they're still a human mind, so no brute-forcing government sites or infiltrating nuclear missile facilities). This guarantees them a sentence that cannot end with death, as the internet has never really gone down since its modern conception and it's unlikely something like that will ever happen.

Now, here's the question: how would one of these offenders persuade modern (as in, early 21st century-based) internet users that they are in fact prisoners from the future and not just someone "making shit up"?

Keep in mind that I'm talking about Average Joe++ here, not about a scientist or someone who has enough knowledge of undeniable future events to be able to catch the attention of this period's governments. Just your average augmented consciousness who had average "common" knowledge of his time. Not unlike a modern day non-college graduate american who would certainly not be able to prove himself to be from the future if sent to the middle ages without technological devices - who the hell memorizes the answer to Millennium Prize problems or the specific impulse of observable Quasars, right?

And just giving a rundown of future technologies would probably not be enough, just think about how many speculative sites on the matter are there.

In short, what would push modern internet users, and not just a small conspiracy theory fringe group, to believe such an impossible claim? Would a list of US presidents or notable global happenings a la Nostradamus be enough for the ever skeptical internet hivemind, considering that there's no real way to confirm beyond reasonable doubt that someone who made a claim 10 years ago on the internet is the same individual who's making another claim today?

Let's assume these "criminals" manifest with an untraceable IP, or something that a first-world government itself would need to devote several million dollars to in order to crack their presumed encryption before they uncover something fishy, "I'm behind 7 proxies"-style.

I may or may not be asking this for a friend who might or might not happen to be a prisoner from the future trapped inside this site.

Edit: this is not duplicate of "How do you prove you're from the future?", as in this question the prisoner cannot prepare beforehand or bring items with him - it's an entirely different scenario.

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    $\begingroup$ Tangential question: How does said criminal convince the world s/he isn't just a deranged AI someone developed in secret and unleashed on the unsuspecting populace? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ Why exactly would we want to help someone who may or may not be a criminal from the future. If governments did find out what they were your friend's (who may or may not be from the future) condition wouldn't change. They don't have the knowledge needed to get you out or even the desire. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Why would they need to convince anyone that they are from the future? Because I don't see a point to doing that. What for? What's the point? Why bother? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ IPs are assigned. If this entity is inserted by some agency of the future they won't have had their IP assigned by anybody. In fact, there's probably a duplicate. Not something that your average forumgoer could verify, but is definite proof that something is amiss. Also, what about tracking the packets through physical wires? If you were to check at every router where the packets destined for this person are going, where would you end up? $\endgroup$
    – Annonymus
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of How do you prove you're from the future? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 7:58

6 Answers 6


Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

No one will ever believe this person. Ever. (Well, no one who isn't a conspiracy theorist)

The turnover rate of most forums is too high and enough of the people are going to think you're trolling them in saying you're from the future that you'd only get conspiracy theorists to maybe believe you, but even then you may be pushing it because though if you know enough information to convince someone you know future things it would have to be things we can see in a relatively short time and can verify quickly.

As well, it would have to be extremely accurate. If any other time paradox or alternate universe came into being due to you getting sent back then it's impossible because if you're not almost exactly (most humans don't care about a few seconds or minutes of inaccuracy, but being more accurate helps your claim) correct, you'll be completely ignored. Then there is the fact that you could have definite proof of your claims, but people suddenly can't go back and find that proof like a forum got deleted and the posts are gone and not everything is forever on the internet especially when it comes to forums.

Also, SE type sites have some methods for these types of discussions/claims, but not to the extent of your typical forum.

Intentional Deletion by Future Authorities

Maybe unbeknownst to the prisoners, the government sends back agents every so often to run interference and deletion if they actually catch enough people's eyes. I'm not talking about deleting the person (that's unethical!) but deleting their forum posts, claims, or building up the side that's calling them a troll, nutter, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ "No one who isn't a conspiracy theorist." So, all of Reddit believes him. I think that's good enough, right? $\endgroup$
    – Murphy L.
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 15:23

Can we actually help you?

Start with an end. You made it. You convinced whole worldbuilding community that you are trapped mind from the future. Bravo. But ... Can we actually help you?

Even though we as community certainly enjoy discussing hypothetical questions like "Is it possible to build Death star with today tech?" , no one is trying to build it

Even though we know how to get Average Joe to power over the world, no one is trying (Well, at least I hope so)

Enjoy your punishment while you can

Sad truth is, that even if we believe you, no one would do more than just ... post an answer, because thats all we can do. Sorry.

Addendum: Things you need to know how to set you free

  • How exactly does the punishment procedure works
  • How to revert it using current technology. Again, exactly, step by step

Imagine this. I am writing this answer on late 2015 Macbook Pro. I accidentally encrypted my hard disk and was sent back to year 1997. How do I unlock data on disk without knowing password using 1997 tech?

It is impossible. Again, sorry.

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    $\begingroup$ That's a bit beyond the point of the question. It's irrelevant whether you can help him. The point is him getting you to believe his claims in the first point. And by "you", as specified in the question, I mean an average internet forum whose powers may or may not be historically farther reaching than those of stackexchange users (imageboards, reddit, etc). $\endgroup$
    – Some Guy
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be an answer tailored towards the title of the question, but not towards the body of the question. @SomeGuy Your title is a bit misleading as it is different from what you write in the body. Relevant meta: Of questions & titles $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ What's the point of having a body of a question then? Should all humorous titles be edited because there's a number of users who don't read beyond the first line? Just like it's the questioner's duty to write a question that makes sense and isn't too general or off-topic, likewise someone who writes an answer has to put a bit of effort in it. Half the questions on this site suffer from a witty title, in fact. Besides that, this discussion is pointless because this answer shows that he at least read the body - he just chose to ignore it and jump to the "after". $\endgroup$
    – Some Guy
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 15:27

Let's suppose that in a possibly far future, when humanity has all but abandoned their mortal bodies and uploaded their consciousness to the great net of things

Based on this sentence alone, i consider highly impossible for our Average Joe to be able to convince anyone that he is from the future.
You are talking about eons or millennia into the future. Our current (21st) century will be ancient history to them. Their technology will be beyond our sci-fi theories, far beyond what we can understand right now.

Reverse your example.
Lets send you back in time, about 5000 years. How can you convince the people back then that you are from the future? Talk to them about the internet? About your smartphone? Can you predict the future for them? How accurately? We know nothing about that period - or at least 99.9% of our population knows nothing about them. How would they perceive your claims?

The only way I consider a possibility is the ability to accurately predict the future - not everything, but major events that influence millions of people. And this requires special preparation for our Joe. Not something the average criminal is prepared for (unless of course your Joe plans exactly that).

And that's the moment the paradoxes begin.
So you convince the authorities tat you are from future. You give them warnings about a couple of major disasters. They consider you lunatic and ignore you. When your claims become true, they reconsider. And decide to hear your 3rd warning. They take steps to prevent a catastrophic event or reduce its casualties.
Game over at this point. The future has changed in unpredictable ways. Is the time continuum the same? Has it been altered? Changed completley?


The only way to convince skeptics you're from the future is to make multiple, accurate, short-term predictions (recorded in a reasonably tamper-resistant form a reasonable time ahead of the event). Who won the 2019 World Series? Who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize? Who will be president of the USA on March 1, 2021?

If a single author makes, say, a dozen predictions like this months ahead of the events, and every single one is accurate, there are only two reasonable possibilities: they have some kind of foreknowledge, or they're actually (successfully) manipulating the events. Either is worthy of considerable attention, and the latter seems at least as unlikely as the former.

Now, convincing people you're not running the world might be difficult -- because refusing to work to order has the same result as not being in control: random stuff happens. Likewise, running everything has much the same result as foreknowledge: your predictions are accurate, over and over.

The way out of this is to make predictions about things that aren't reasonably controllable: meteorite impacts (like the Chelyabinsk event), sunspot counts, gamma ray bursts, and other cosmic events. This requires a completely different knowledge set from predicting the World Series, of course, but it's not much harder to check -- and it's beyond the ability of anyone to reasonably manipulate the events (though potentially open to accusations of manipulating the detection of the events).

  • $\begingroup$ "Who will be president of the USA on March 1, 2021" We're still wondering that. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ @chasly-supportsMonica "President" and "leader" aren't the same thing at all. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't say they were. I won't make any jokes about POTUS's age and state of health. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 12:17

Let's try flipping the question to something more relatable: How would you convince someone from say, 1800 that you were from the future if all you could do is write letters/books?

The most obvious way is to tell them of future events. However, since you don't have any preparation it would have to be events everybody knows happens, and it would really depend on how much you paid attention in school. Maybe you could tell them that them that James Madison would be president in 1808 or that the napoleonic wars were going to happen, but I have no idea how that would go. Most people would probably think you were just good at guessing future events, unless you actually knew history well enough to name specific days and years instead of general events.

We can assume the same would hold true of a time traveler from the future coming back to today. They may tell us that we're going to go to war in the south china sea sometime in the 2030s, but is that really all that impressive if they don't know the specific year or date? They may even tell us who is going to be president next, but even that could just be a good guess.

To get people in the past to believe you, you'd need to predict an event with sufficient serendipity - something no one could predict otherwise. For example, if you told someone that Napoleon III was going to take power in 1848, people might ascribe some sort of prescience to you, because that event was much less predictable than a lot of other historical events. In similar terms, if someone in 2000 said "Donald Trump will be president in 2016", there is some case for prescient knowledge.

So one way your time traveler could convince people is by predicting historically surprising events. These are rare, but if your time traveler could reasonably say 3 or 4 completely unexpected things, then they would probably gain some following outside the fringes. However, I don't think this will be enough to convince the general public.

Along these lines, another good way is to predict art and literature, since those are up to whims of individuals and can't be reasonably predicted in any other way except for prescience. For example, if I said "Jane Austen will publish a novel titled Pride and Prejudice in 1813", then people would either have to believe that I know Jane Austen personally or that I somehow have foreknowledge. If I predicted enough book publishing dates, then that would make a pretty convincing case that I was a time traveller. In the same way, if our hypothetical time traveler knew a few famous books and movies from the 2000s, they could make a reasonable case that they were from the future.

It's important to note here that none of this knowledge actually requires specialized college education. There is nothing here that is very obscure or unknown, but a lot of it is knowledge people learn and then forget. If our time traveler was an adolescent in middle school who's memorizing dates for an exam, they'd actually have a very good chance of being able to use that knowledge to convince the public.


Rather than making event predictions, I would take the approach of disclosing discoveries. The issue with event predictions (who wins the pennant/election/war) is that you have the butterfly effect to consider. Your presence may just in a tiny way affect random events and change things. Even worse if your predictions are taken seriously, they may change the timeline in a non butterfly manner.

However, if you share discoveries, than this should not be affected by your impact (butterfly or large) on the timestream. For instance, if you disclosed in 1980 that YBa2Cu3O7 was a superconductor, that would be a rather momentous thing that would be very hard to know without a lot of random trials in the field. Similarly, discoveries in other fields: archeological, geological, biological, astrologic...I mean...nomical.

Note that many discoveries don't require the creation of an entire industry (as some inventions do). For a HTSC, you just need to know the formula. Boom...instant Nobel Prize with almost no work.

  • $\begingroup$ And how would disclosing HTSC in 1980, 6 years before their discovery, be safe from butterfly effect? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying the timeline won't diverge. Of course it will, no matter what. That was my original point. But if you synthesize an HTSC, it will superconduct no matter what, no matter when, because it is a discovered physical property of nature. (Thus your "prediction" will hold true.) If you instead predict who wins the World Series, this is subject to butterfly effect. $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 6:52

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