“Don’t paddle on the chair, don’t put your elbows on the table, how do you ask for things” … these and a thousand other things we have heard from our parents since we were very young.
We owe most of our good behaviour to our parents. They have been teaching us how we should behave, however, we get online and we forget many of the things we usually do in real life. This happens because we lose the awareness that behind the screen there are people reading.
In social media, interactions are between human beings. When we enter a new culture (and social media is one of them) we are exposed to making some mistakes:
- We can offend without intending to.
- We can misinterpret what others say and be offended when it was not the intention.
Therefore, in addition to never forgetting that we are interacting with people, we should know the basic rules of netiquette.
To minimise beginners’ mistakes and to help veterans help them in this task, we must start from the premise that people would rather make friends than win enemies, and that by following a few basic rules, we can avoid the mistakes that will prevent us from making friends.
What is netiquette?
Now we come to the actual definition of Netiquette. It is simple, it is the etiquette used to communicate on the net. “The rules required by good manners or prescribed by an authority to be observed in social or official life”.
In other words, netiquette is a set of rules for behaving appropriately online.
The basic rules of netiquette
Remembering the human
The golden rule taught to us by our parents and early educators was very simple: “don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you”. Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Stand up for yourself, but try not to hurt the feelings of others.
When we are having an online conversation (whether it is an exchange of emails or a response to a group discussion) it is very easy to misunderstand what is being said. And it is easy to forget that our correspondent is a person with feelings very similar to our own.
As a solution, the writer Guy Kawasaki proposes an exercise that can be done before sending an email, which consists of asking oneself: would I say this to that person’s face? If the answer is no, we should rewrite and revise again. Repeat the process until you feel that what you are sending through cyberspace is the same as what you would say to the person’s face.
Follow the same standards we use in real life
In real life we respect the law, either willingly or simply out of fear of the consequences if we are caught committing a crime. Well, it seems that, online, the chances of getting caught are more remote than in real life?
I’m not going to go into this subject, which would take up a lot of time, but what I will say is that, if we comply with the law in real life, let’s do the same on the net.
Let us be ethical. Let’s not believe those who say: the only ethics that exist in cyberspace is to do things without consequences.
Know where we are in cyberspace
Netiquette varies from domain to domain. What is perfectly acceptable on Twitter may be condemnable on Facebook. When we enter a social network or community that is new to us, we should take time to observe. Pay attention to the conversations or read the archives. Get a sense of how people who are already participating are acting. And then, let’s participate too.
Respect each other’s time
In today’s world, time is money. It is essential that we are aware that when we send an email, post on a forum or in a community, we are using or expecting to use other people’s time. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make sure that the time they spend reading our message is not wasted. Let us remember that we are not the centre of cyberspace.
Take advantage of anonymity
On the web, we will not be judged on our physical appearance, but we will be judged on the quality of our writing. This means that writing and grammar count.
Let’s write about what we know and be consistent. Pay attention to the content of what you write. Make sure you know what you are talking about (when you write “I understand that” or “it seems to me that in this case…”), make sure you check the facts before you send the text. Misinformation, typos and misspellings spread like wildfire on the web.
It is better to communicate simply. Let us also make sure that our comments are clear and logical. It is perfectly possible to write a paragraph without errors in wording or grammar, but without making sense. This is more likely to happen when we are trying to impress someone and we use a lot of complicated words that we don’t understand ourselves.
Sharing expert knowledge
The strength of Web 2.0 lies in the number of people who use it. The reason why asking questions online works is because so many knowledgeable people read them. And if only a few of them offer intelligent answers, the sum total of the world’s knowledge increases.
The Internet itself started and grew because some scientists wanted to share information. Let’s not be afraid to share what we know with others.
It is a good idea to share with others the answers we get to the questions we ask through this medium. If we are experts in something, there is a lot we can contribute that is both satisfying and rewarding. Let’s not abuse the advantages we may have.
Some people have more influence on social networks or are even experts on different topics. Knowing more than others or having more knowledge of how different systems work does not give us the right to take advantage of others.
Excusing the mistakes of others
We were all, at one time or another, beginners on the net. When someone makes a spelling mistake, makes a strong comment, asks a silly question or gives an unnecessarily long answer, be patient. If the mistake is small, don’t make a comment.