if, as Netizens often claim, the Internet provides human beings with a new form of communication, it appears that this third language sits snugly within man's subconscious, oblivious to the checks and balances that, in sane adults at least, provide the antidote to psychosis and paranoia.

Proof of this can be found in Usenet, a collection of hundreds of newsgroups on everything from tea-making to bizarre sexual rituals. Here you'll find such gems as alt.conspiracy.guineapig, where people can and do release their often quite ridiculous fears.

"This is really quite a weird thing to be posting, but I have two guinea pigs that absolutely go bonkers with their `feed me!' squeaks when my girlfriend and I are intimate," says Rohan. "We've tried faking any possible sounds to them, but they're not to be fooled. Has anybody else ever had voyeuristic guinea pigs or are mine just weird?"

A bizarre enough concern - but wait until you hear the response: "Move 'em," urges John P. "Your 'pigs must feel very privileged, being privy to the mating rituals of their subjects. THEY ARE MERELY STUDYING YOU, their repetitious `WHHEEEETS!' are merely their expressions of either disgust or excitement ... speaking as a member of HFTGPC (Humans for Total Guinea Pig Control), I can only say that you are letting them in on some pretty heavy human secrets ... next thing you know they'll be cloning some half-GP, half-human creatures based on their research ..."

Of course, most of the paranoia on the Net centres on the old chestnuts - outer space, the men from Mars, flying saucers and so on. Take John, for instance, someone seemingly sceptical of the whole notion of little green men: "We live in a pathetically uninteresting little world. Since we are scarcely out of the Stone Age, and our resource utilisation is helter-skelter, just where does anyone get the idea that we are interesting?"

Unfortunately, John has to take his scepticism that one, small step further: "I allege that all abductees have been terrorised by control freaks. These control freaks are protectors of the "Grand Mystique", and they are all human. It is hard to hang renegades as witches. It is hard to control their freak accidents. So now they graft memories of aliens to control people."

There are many more people like John, each with their own story. Indeed, the now infamous Roswell incident that has featured so heavily in the national press recently is old news to the denizens of such groups as alt.alien.visitors. Even the video of the footage (showing a crashed space craft and an alleged post-mortem examination of the alien creatures inside), which sparked huge controversy, has been up for sale on the Web for months (http://www/

Wading through all these conspiracy stories on Usenet is incredible fun. Unfortunately, however, there are whole sections of the Usenet devoted to quite sickening racism, and misogyny on the Net is everywhere. The lack of effective libel or obscenity laws provides the perfect opportunity for people to release things they really shouldn't.

Conversely, a lot of stories that eventually make it to the national press (Roswell, for example), only do so because of their initial exposure on the Internet, a place where things are free from censorship and government control.

And perhaps that alone justifies all the mad rantings that you'll find there, however ugly or obscene.

After all, who needs Woodward and Bernstein when you've got an unmediated, uncensored means of communicating to an audience of more than 30 million? The only problem is that it's not always obvious who or what to believe - Guinea Pigs taking over the world anyone?