How do I show etiquette on the Internet?

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Answered by: Mark, An Expert in the Netiquette and Trolling Category
‘Netiquette’, also known as etiquette on the Internet, is the term used to describe the expected social conventions to be used when communicating online. When communicating with others on the Internet, it is important to be mindful of your behavior. It is also important to be aware of certain aspects that are similar to, or different to, face-to-face communication. The points mentioned in this article are expanded upon in the book ‘Netiquette’, written by Virginia Shea.

As a society, we are often told to ‘treat others the way you would like to be treated’; the same can be said for online communication. It is important to remember that behind every computer screen, tablet or mobile phone, there is also a real human being. A common occurrence is the over-use of capital letters when communicating online. Generally speaking, you wouldn’t yell at your parents when talking to them, so avoid typing messages in all upper case letters. Otherwise, you may be portrayed as someone who is short-tempered, obnoxious, or otherwise generally unpleasant to be around.

With this in mind, it is also important to make yourself look good online. Due to the nature of online communication, you never quite know where the content of your communications will end up. You are also constantly judged by the quality of your writing. Be polite and don’t be offensive for the sake of being offensive. For example, if someone is constantly abusing others on Facebook, using mostly vulgarities and SMS-talk, this lack of netiquette may cause them issues when they least expect it, such as when applying for jobs. A simple Internet search can give a clear indication of a person, simply through their online communication.

Having said this, there are similarities between face-to-face communication and online communication that help to uphold a positive personal image, including being forgiving and being respectful. As unfortunate as it is, humans make mistakes. This is made even more apparent when communicating online, as any mistakes made are often made publicly. Spelling errors, potentially ‘stupid’ questions and overly long answers are often viewed as mistakes. These mistakes are often viewed negatively, and the culprit is often criticized harshly as a result. Rather than adding to the criticism and putting others down, be forgiving of mistakes. If attempting to legitimately correct these mistakes, be polite and respectful of the other person. Being respectful is another social convention that should be upheld when displaying netiquette. By keeping your attitude in check, communication can flow normally, without aggression or criticism, often leading to more interesting discussions, without complications.

On the other hand, there are also differences between face-to-face communication and online communication, which can sometimes lead to complications. These differences include a lack of body language whilst communicating and the perceived cloak of anonymity. Due to a lack of body language, comments that are, for example, humorous in face-to-face communication, may be seen as offensive online. This is particularly common when sarcasm is used, as the associated pitch and tone of voice is missing altogether. Because of this, it is usually more appropriate to be as straight-forward as possible. While most people who use the Internet to communicate are mindful of their manners, there are those who are not. These users, who are often referred to as ‘trolls’, aim to purposely provoke, upset and generally disrupt other users, all the while hiding behind the perceived cloak of anonymity that the Internet provides. If you come across these types of people, it is best to ignore them.

This article has presented several guidelines that can be used when communicating online and displaying ‘netiquette’ – that is, etiquette on the Internet. It is important to be aware of the similarities and differences between online communication and face-to-face communication. Your behavior and attitude are contributing factors towards portraying a positive personal image, which is increasingly important as technology advances. Overall, communicating online should be as pleasant as face-to-face communication and, when these guidelines are followed, it can be.

Source: - ‘The Core Rules of Netiquette’, Virginia Shea., 1990 – 2011.

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