When you were a child your parents and teachers taught you the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Remember how often courtesy and good manners were stressed when you were growing up and learning how to interact with other people? You were taught to stand up for yourself and express your opinions, but in a polite way, without offending anyone or making someone angry. Most of us grew up knowing that people are people, and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
Unfortunately, all too often people today forget the fact that when they interact with someone online, that interaction is still a human one despite the electronics and technology in the middle. When you communicate with someone on the Internet, you're at a great disadvantage because the only interface is the computer screen―and all you have available to use to interpret someone's meaning is the actual words they offer. There are no facial expressions, no gestures or body language, and no tone of voice that indicates any emotion behind the words. All you have are the words, and how you read and interpret them is up to you.
For that reason, electronic communications can be easily misinterpreted. The Internet has opened a global door to bring together people who might never meet otherwise. So, in terms of uniting people of like minds and interests, the Internet is a valuable tool for socializing and expanding your horizons. But paradoxically, the Internet is a cold and impersonal atmosphere, so meeting people online is vastly different from meeting them face to face. Interacting with your computer screen makes it easy to forget that the correspondent on the other end of the communication is a real person, just like you.
Many people seem to think that using a computer to communicate makes it acceptable for them to lose sight of all the rules of etiquette they use every day when dealing with people in person. But 'netiquette' is perhaps even more important, because of the computer in between. Without being able to express yourself and your thoughts in person, the only thing available to the person on the other end is your words. So it is extremely important to choose your words carefully, and remember that there is a real person on the other end, reading them and interpreting them without any face-to-face assistance from you. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind to ensure that you practice good netiquette online.
Use the same standards of etiquette that you use in your day-to-day life.
Most people are law-abiding, polite, considerate citizens in real life. But for some reason, many people totally abandon their maturity when they get online. Maybe some people think etiquette isn't as important because they are just dealing with a computer―but there is a real human being on the other end, just like in real life communications. The definition of acceptable behavior varies from website to website, but standards of behavior in general should never be lower than those used in real day-to-day living.
Be confident, not conceited.
Be sure you know what you're saying, and be sure your words impart the tone that you'd be using if you were speaking. If you find yourself often saying "I think..." or "I believe" or "it's been my experience that..." then you may want to tone down the self-important attitude a bit and make your comments more casual or objective. In most situations you won't have time to carefully select every word you write, but get in the habit of pretending you're actually talking to someone in person―read your words to yourself inside your head―and be sure that what you're saying comes across as polite discourse, not a self-absorbed rant.
Imagine saying it to a person's face.
Remember, the person reading your words is a real person. So with everything you write online, imagine that you're actually speaking those words to a person's face. Would you say the same thing? Unfortunately, most people dashing off comments online don't stop to think that there's a human being on the other end with feelings, emotions, and thoughts of their own. If you blast off a derogatory comment about someone, and that person reads it online, think of how it would make them feel and whether or not you'd actually say it to their face. The anonymity of the Internet makes it easier for people to complain loudly, curse at others, and behave like imbeciles, because they think they are untouchable. But the flip side of such behavior is that a real person is on the receiving end of that rudeness and hatred. If you wouldn't say something to a person's face, then you shouldn't write it online.
Anonymity is great, but it can have consequences.
The Internet is a huge network of communication, and most of the people communicating online just want to share opinions and have those opinions appreciated. Discussion groups, blogs, and social networking sites allow you to reach out to faceless people that you'd probably never meet otherwise. Chances are you'll never meet those people in person, and you won't be judged by your age, your weight, the color of your hair, the way you dress, or any of the superficial things that people judge you on in person. But people will judge you by the quality of your writing, and what you have to say. And although the Internet is a big place and it's easy to be anonymous, don't be fooled into thinking that you can say whatever you want to and get away with it, particularly in e-mail accounts. Written words are much more permanent than spoken words, and because of screen captures, printers, and backup records, your written words can come back to haunt you. E-mails are particularly risky, because they can be forwarded without your permission or consent, so you have no control over who reads what you've written.
The main reason for using good netiquette when interacting with people online is that they are real people, after all. There are websites out there that are designed to lend themselves to people being rude, obnoxious, outrageous, and irritating. But for the most part, especially in e-mail accounts, good netiquette means being pleasant and polite, don't be offensive or inflammatory, and try not to be confrontational. Not only will you gain the respect and friendship of an ever-expanding network of other communicators, you'll also make your mother proud.