10 netiquette rules to maintain a good online reputation

A woman researching how to maintain a good online reputation and netiquette rules.

Do you and your kids know the rules of online communication? We have 10 netiquette rules that can help your online reputation. 

Online communication can make or break your online reputation. So it’s smart to follow certain rules of the road — or the net —to assure that you don’t tarnish any relationships. These cyberspace standards of behavior are known as netiquette. Netiquette rules are important to teach to kids so that they act appropriately while surfing the web and interacting with others online.

what is netiquette

What is netiquette?

Netiquette is the correct way of conducting yourself while communicating online. The word netiquette was derived by combining “net” and “etiquette.”

While social etiquette has evolved over time and differs based on culture, digital etiquette is fairly new. As more people spend time online and technology advances, it’s important to be aware of how we are interacting online. Following netiquette guidelines can help you maintain a positive online presence.

10 rules of netiquette

Make sure you understand this list of the core online etiquette rules that were excerpted and adapted from Virginia Shea’s book, The Core Rules of Netiquette

Rule 1: Remember the human

What frequently gets people into trouble when communicating online is that they easily forget they are communicating with real people. There’s a human behind the words you’re reading. It’s easier to shoot back a response to a negative comment because you’re looking at text on a screen rather than looking at someone in the eyes. There’s a certain anonymous freedom, although nothing is really anonymous on the Internet.

It’s also easy to misread the context of someone’s words when you can’t see their facial expressions or body language. How often have you read something that you thought meant one thing, when it really meant something quite different? Meaning can also get lost in translation when auto-correct changes your text or sloppy typing leaves out key words.

netiquette remember the human

Rule 2: Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life

There’s something freeing about being potentially anonymous, or at least faceless, that ignites a feeling of freedom to say things that you would never say in person. You can type it, and then shut down your computer or log out of Facebook. You can ignore everyone’s response, at least for a little while.

But this kind of cyber behavior can still get you into trouble — it just may not be as immediate as if you were listening to their response in person. For instance, copying someone else’s work can violate copyright laws. In addition, saying someone did something when they didn’t could harm their reputation and be considered libelous. On a more personal level, you could risk alienating yourself from a group of friends, family members, or colleagues because of something you’ve written.

Rule 3: Know where you are in cyberspace

Knowing where you’re writing — and your audience — is essential because online forums and domains all have their own rules. What’s good for one group may go against the mentality or rules of another. 

For example, if you mistakenly post about your meat-lovers blog and all of the ways you marinate chicken, and you’re communicating in a vegan chat group on Facebook, you may receive comments from offended group members.

netiquette avoid wasting time

Rule 4: Respect others’ time and bandwidth

The information overload in today’s society can be overwhelming. It’s important to respect people’s time, keeping your online communication succinct and to the point.

It’s also wise to keep in mind that your communications, whether they’re in the form of emails or online posts, take up space in storage systems. Bombarding mailing lists with large files or unnecessary data is not looked upon favorably.

Rule 5: Make yourself look good online

Spelling and grammar are meaningful in online communication. Content also is key. Before you post about “knowing” something, be sure you actually know what you’re talking about.

Another potential drawback of online communication? It’s too easy to type out a negative comment if someone ruffles your feathers. Sometimes letting something sit for a day — or at least a few hours — can be helpful in deciding if you really need to post that comment. Often, you’ll feel relieved you didn’t react, or over-react, too quickly.

Chat rooms can be particularly tempting. Swearing, starting flame wars, or posting comments that you know will cause controversy, is just poor netiquette. It’s also important to keep in mind that writing a message in all caps is considered poor online etiquette, because it is commonly understood to be the equivalent of shouting at the recipient.

netiquette share your expert knowledge

Rule 6: Share expert knowledge

One of the true benefits of expanded online communication is the ability to share and retrieve expert knowledge quickly. If you’re an expert and have research or news to share, this is one of the best uses of the internet.

Rule 7: Help keep flame wars under control

On the other hand, flaming, or trying to incite drama by expressing strong and obnoxious opinions, seems to be widespread in the cyberworld. In some forums and chat rooms, it may be expected, but it’s not looked upon kindly in others. Administrators of Facebook groups, for example, may take these posts down or block users that start flame wars from access to their groups.

Rule 8: Respect one another's privacy

This ability to share information at the touch of a button comes with responsibility. An important netiquette rule is respecting the privacy of others. You should not publicly identify or post private information about someone especially as a form of punishment or revenge, a practice known as doxxing.

You should also avoid snooping around in someone’s else’s computer or email to find out information that normally wouldn’t be open to you. With everything written down, it can be tempting for others to try to gain access to our private information.

netiquette respect the privacy of others

Rule 9: Don't abuse your power

Some people in cyberspace, such as system administrators, may have more power than others. But there are certain lines, such as accessing others’ private information, that shouldn’t be crossed.

People in powerful positions may try to gain an edge over their adversaries or put others down on social media platforms because they can, and because they have a huge group of followers. It’s a good idea not to abuse this power or say things online that you may someday regret.

Rule 10: Be forgiving of other people's mistakes

In a forum that is governed by the written word and individual writers, mistakes are inevitable. While some are more costly or scandalous than others, an important rule of thumb is to be forgiving, if possible.

We should all take care to confirm that what we’re posting is accurate, especially if it could be hurtful to someone’s reputation. If someone says something hurtful about us without the intention of flaming, we should try to acknowledge their mistake in a forgiving manner. 

Consequences for poor netiquette

The ability to reach out to real people with one quick click of a button can be wonderful. You’re given access to new worlds of information. But this ease of communication — and ability to speak behind the cloak of your devices without face-to-face contact — brings up several issues that can present real challenges.

Cyberbullying and toxic social media behavior are two of the many forms of poor online behavior that not only can ostracize you, but also can have legal ramifications.

Another issue that children may face if they aren’t taught to safely use social media is their digital footprint following them as they grow up. Once your words or photos are online, you may not be able to take them back or delete them. 

That’s why it’s smart to teach internet safety before you allow your children to communicate online. One toxic post or picture could make it tougher for them to get into a school or land a particular job.

Netiquette respect theprivacy of others

Netiquette takeaways

Many of us are active in our online communications and enjoy its rewards: finding out new information quickly, making new friends and connections, and potentially feeling like we aren’t alone in our activities and opinions.

But all of this access and power comes with its own standards and rules of behavior. After all, we don’t want to alienate ourselves or get into social or legal trouble.

It’s paramount to practice the netiquette rules and, from time to time, remind ourselves that while we may see unfeeling characters on our screens, there are real people behind those words who will feel real emotions when they read what we share online.

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Alison Grace Johansen
  • Alison Grace Johansen
  • Freelance writer
Alison Grace Johansen is a freelance writer who covers cybersecurity and consumer topics. Her background includes law, corporate governance, and publishing.

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