Kids' Safety

What is netiquette?

Online communication is the most connection you may have with some people each day. So certain rules of the road — or the net — have evolved. These cyberspace standards of behavior are known as netiquette. They’re based on network etiquette that’s important to follow, given the constantly evolving technology and online forums at your fingertips.

Netiquette basics

The beauty of being able to reach out to real people with the 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.

This is where netiquette comes in. It’s an idea that provides a code of conduct for people communicating online, and it can help improve your online experience. For example, writing an email message in all caps is considered poor netiquette, because it is commonly understood to be the equivalent of shouting at the recipient.

If you have children, it’s a good idea to teach them netiquette. For instance, one of the most fundamental concepts to remember before communicating anything online is once your words or pictures are out in cyberspace, you most often can’t get them back or delete them.

That’s why it’s smart to be careful when 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.

Rules of netiquette by Albion.com

What are these netiquette rules? Albion.com provides a list of core online etiquette rules, excerpted from Virginia Shea’s book, Netiquette.

Netiquette rules

Here are 10 rules to help guide you.

  • Rule 1: Remember the human

What frequently gets people into trouble when communicating online is that it is often easy to forget we are communicating with other real people. There’s a human behind those words you’re reading. When you read what you feel is a negative comment, it’s feels easier to shoot back a response when you’re just looking at text on a computer screen instead of looking 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.

  • 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 in some people a feeling of freedom to say things they never would 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. Or saying someone did something when they didn’t could harm their reputation and be considered libelous. Or 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, it is likely you will receive comments from offended group members.

  • Rule 4: Respect others’ time and bandwidth

Today’s culture of being on the go, fitting everything in, and information overload 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 to 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.

  • Rule 6: Share expert knowledge

One of the true benefits of expanded online communication — and one of the primary reasons the internet exists in the first place — 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. This means not publicly identifying or publishing private information about someone especially as a form of punishment or revenge, a practice known as doxxing.

It also means not 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.

  • Rule 9: Don't abuse your power

Along these lines, 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 down others 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 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.

A recent example of this was when writer Toni Adeyemi criticized New York Times best-selling author Nora Roberts on Twitter — for allegedly plagiarizing the title of Adeyemi’s book. One glitch was that Roberts says she wrote her title and book before the other writer wrote hers. Roberts responded with her own post, saying she didn’t believe writers should attack each other on public forums.

Adeyemi wrote an apology — but didn’t take down the Tweet as Roberts requested.

The lesson here? This example reminds us that we should all take care to confirm that what we’re posting is accurate, especially if it could be hurtful to someone’s reputation. Roberts also accused Adeyemi of not putting out the flame on the issue, which would have been good netiquette.

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 good netiquette 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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