The ever-evolving digital space accompanied by social media platforms’ meteoric rise has birthed a new concept in online communication called ‘Netiquette”. Simply put, Netiquette spells out certain guidelines that govern cyber relations and regulate online behavior. With close to five billion internet users globally, it is only right that appropriate standards are put to maintain order and create a safe space for exchanging meaningful information.
One may wonder why it is important to establish rules that guide online interaction. After all, the internet is a free space owned exclusively by no one, and everyone has the right to freedom of expression. Valid point, but we need to remember that we are dealing with humans, who are inherently emotional beings, and our actions/inactions can varying impacts on other individuals. One mean comment on that classmate’s post you do not fancy can not only ruin his/her mood for a whole day but can trigger feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem. Monopolizing a conversation without giving others the chance to express themselves can make you appear selfish or inconsiderate. Likewise, intentionally using slang or expressions deemed disrespectful to a particular group to win an argument leaves a bad impression of oneself.
The anonymity provided by the internet has been inextricably linked to rude and abusive behavior. Recent studies have shown that this privilege is grossly misused to spread false information, push silly agendas and promote malicious content. With finstas (fake Instagram accounts), hidden identities, and burner profiles, individuals wield an undue amount of power online without considering their actions’ repercussions. If anything, we should exercise greater caution online because whatever goes on the cloud truly stays on the cloud, and we have no control over our content once it gets out.
Bear in mind that your ‘hidden identity’ is not as hidden anymore as anyone with access to your IP address can track you down, and no one wants to be cornered in public by someone you have spoken ill about on social media. Thus, the rules of Netiquette exist to equip internet users with a sense of responsibility and mutual respect while maintaining that physical communication ideals subsist even in the virtual world.
10 Golden Rules of Netiquette
Below, we explore in detail a list of ground rules that all savvy internet users should be conversant with:
- Respect for People’s Opinions: This point cannot be emphasized enough. Most petty arguments and heated word exchanges on Twitter today would be avoided if people learn to respect others’ opinions. There are nearly eight billion people in the world, and each individual is entitled to an opinion. Every human mind is wired differently, and different factors shape people’s perspectives. You cannot agree with every post, and every post must not appeal to you. Being mindful of this fact will keep on course and help you engage with only posts you find meaningful. It will also prevent you from getting triggered or feeling some way about the content you do not necessarily agree with.
- Respect for People’s Privacy: Imagine you wake up to the buzzing sound of spam messages from a Whatsapp group you were added to without your consent or if the family photo you entrusted with a close friend is publicly posted on her story. You would certainly be furious and feel like your privacy has been violated, right? Exactly, because no one wants their private lives invaded and publicized on the internet. Having access to someone’s information does not give you the right to share it without their consent. Yes! The keyword here is consent. Even something as ‘harmless’ as sending daily health tips via broadcasts without obtaining consent from the other party is intrusive, so refrain from doing that unless solicited. Before sending out that email, post, picture, or comment, next time, ask yourself, Am I violating anyone’s privacy? If you cannot answer this question with certainty then, sit that post out.
- Watch your Tone and Delivery: A common setback of online communication is that it is prone to various interpretations and misinterpretations. Because the audience is not seeing you physically to analyze your body language, they are left to read meaning into the content you provide. Use words in the appropriate context to convey what you mean and leave no room for ambiguity. No one likes being yelled at, so avoid unwarranted use of ALL CAPS as this can be easily misconstrued as yelling, which is impolite.
- Verify your Facts Before Sharing: It is okay to have limited knowledge of a topic, but it is not okay to share information that is not backed by facts or concrete proof. This is a serious issue, as lives have been lost due to the health myths and fallacies circulated on the internet. During the Covid-19 pandemic wake, people concocted various theories regarding the spread of the virus and homemade remedies that can serve as a vaccine. Your thoughtfulness to share the latest herbs for treating the virus will be an exercise in futility if it is not backed by a certified health professional. Know the difference between a personal hunch and a proven fact and do well to cite your sources of information. There is a plethora of information on the internet, so be cautious of what you take in and stick to official sites known for credibility.
- Avoid Sarcasm if You can: Not everyone understands sarcasm in person, and definitely fewer people will decode it online. Carless use of sarcasm, puns, and other literary devices can appear insulting. Remember, your audience cannot detect your messages’ mood one, and if you leave them guessing. As a rule of thumb, avoid sarcasm completely while addressing people outside your inner circle and opt for more direct statements.
- Use Proper Grammar and Punctuation: ‘Am coming 2 see you’re new house 2day.’ Anyone reading this sentence for the first time would appear confused before trying to understand what the sender is saying. As good communicators, we must consider the recipient while constructing our texts. It would be unfair to make others re-read our posts to decipher the key message we are trying to pass across. Do not be tempted to use unfamiliar acronyms, abbreviations, and internet slang in a bid to appear casual and easy-going. This may be deemed disrespectful in a formal setting and attract unnecessary attention. Stick to formal language while paying keen attention to your punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
- Think and Think Again Before You Post: In physical gatherings, you ‘think before you speak,’ but on the internet, you should ‘think before you type.’ Give adequate thought to the content you are willing to share online. Ask yourself, ‘What am I willing to achieve from this post.’ Are you seeking to inform, entertain or respond to a previous post? If any of these reasons do not drive your content, pause and rethink. If you realize that you seek to achieve some selfish motive, it would be wise to discard that post entirely. Never say anything in the heat of the moment that may reflect poorly on you. Once you hit that send button, there is no going back.
- Stay on Topic: Resist the temptation to stray from the initial conversation when participating in online forums and discussions. As tempting as this may be, it would always give off the impression that you do not value others’ time. Make your contributions brief, concise, and relevant to the topic at hand. If need be, ask for permission to express any further contributions or announce that you are willing to shed more light on an issue via personal messages.
- Do not Divulge Sensitive Information: One may ask, what information is regarded as sensitive? Well, any information you are not willing to share with the public is termed SENSITIVE. As mentioned earlier, ‘There is no real privacy on the internet.’ Whatever you post instantly becomes a public property that can be used at anyone’s disposal. Take, for instance, the controversial #silhouette challenge that caused an uproar on Twitter a week ago. Posting such explicit content without prior notice is invasive to others’ privacy and can leave you in a vulnerable position. Always ensure you are not sharing too much personal info in posts, exposing too much skin your pictures, or revealing company secrets that can come back to haunt you in the future.
- Be Nice: It costs nothing to be nice to others in person, and the same rules apply on the internet. Communicate politely using your magic words, express your opinions without shading anyone and avoid trying to be unnecessarily witty. Be willing to offer your assistance to an internet novice until he/she gets properly acquainted with the norms. Remember, we are all learners in communication, so do not attack someone for saying something inappropriate. Rather, text the person privately and render your suggestion politely.
While we recognize the role technology has played in enhancing communication, we must assume the new responsibilities that follow. Rather than yielding to popular trends naively, we must be deliberate about our speech and conduct online. The internet is just a virtual community of people, so you should apply the same ethical standards and values as you would in public. Remember that social media should NEVER be a substitute for in-person interactions so opt for physical conversations. Lastly, keep in mind that your online behavior leaves a permanent digital footprint, so always ACT wisely.