Even before the Pandemic, every day billions of people had been interacting online through articles, newsletters, podcasts, email, comments on blogs, and through social networks. The only difference is that now, we are also spending a significant amount of time on these platforms to learn in a more structured and formal manner by attending school remotely as well as, for many of us, to continue earning our livelihoods by working from home. However, regardless of the reason why we are interacting more online and regardless of our purpose, for us to be most successful, we need to have an agreed upon etiquette so that we can communicate most effectively to lead to the best results possible- we need to agree on the social rules and norms for how we are going to treat one another and use our platforms!

The Internet is a global space with people of various backgrounds, points of view, situations, cultures, and languages. If we’re going to be successful in our communications, we are going to need to learn and develop an online etiquette or “netiquette” that will guide how we deal with others on the Internet and on our multiple platforms. One of the main reasons is that online communication is much different than in person communication because various nuances in tone are lost to online readers because they can’t always see or hear the indicators that describe our mood or intent in the case of written communication and in terms of video depending on how we show up on camera they can also still be confused.

What is Different About Online Communication?

When talking to someone in person you can see their facial expressions and hear the tone of their voice, so you can tell if something is meant to be a joke, a sarcastic statement or if the person is actually being serious or inquisitive: we can pick up on emotions or body language so we can know if something is said out of anger or fun. However, online we are often at a disadvantage depending on the global platform. When online, you might be talking to someone that uses words and systems differently from you, so here are some tips to improve online etiquette and by extension improve communication and results.


Tips For Helping Your Child Improve Online Etiquette 

1. Be Respectful of Others

Respect others’ rights and opinions: don’t interrupt someone who is speaking or write disparagingly of them or their opinions in a chat, either during or after they speak just because you disagree . This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, and it is okay to let them know that you don’t agree, but disagree in a respectful manner. Also, don’t try to impose your thoughts or beliefs on others.

2. Be Positive

Negativity leads to more negativity, so be aware of how strong language -ALL CAPS- and exclamation points (“!!!”) can be perceived by readers when you are writing in a chat. Be careful with humor and sarcasm, even when you are on video: not everyone will pick up on it and it can be confusing for some. Also keep in mind that strongly divisive opinions will almost guarantee an argument online.

3. Choose Images Carefully

When choosing your avatar, bitmoji, or emojis, make sure to choose your images carefully as they can be taken out of context. People tend to take images at face value and will consider these indicative of your character and credibility. For example, If you’re doing something embarrassing in the image or you utilize a cartoon, potential employers will likely pass judgment; this is a particularly important consideration in social media platforms like Facebook. Also, when engaging in video, be sure to pick an appropriate location and to dress appropriately for your audience and purpose.

4. In Chats Use Clear Language

Go for clarity and to-the-point writing avoiding the use of slang, shorthand, and abbreviations as well as professional jargon as these may not mean the same thing to every audience. Also, keep in mind people’s attention span when speaking; lead with your most important point.

5. In Chats Use Emoticons only where Appropriate 

When writing online, If you say it clearly, choosing your words carefully, and using proper grammar and punctuation, your words are less likely to be misunderstood, so always try to keep to this standard to protect the integrity of your message. Also, keep your audience and purpose in mind: skip the emoticons in a professional environment, but in the context of  conversations with your friends consider using emoticons to help get your mood and reactions across in your chats.

6. In Chats Proofread

Grammar and spelling still matter – even to your friends. Keep in mind that  bad spelling and grammar could change the context, causing readers to get the wrong impression and could be seen as a sign of disrespect. It is important to show that you care, so that your message will be taken seriously.

7. Learn the Tools

Learn to use the tools each platform provides and use them to the fullest. For example, if they provide stickers that can show the mood of your post, use them so others understand how to interpret your words, but always keep the importance of good  “netiquette” in mind.

8. Fact Check

Research something before sharing, so that you don’t post fake news and contribute to gossip and misunderstanding. Always make sure that the information you are sharing is correct and accurate as you could easily do untold damage to an individual’s credibility, and oftentimes, these people are not in a position to either defend themselves or are not even aware that such comments exist until it’s too late. Don’t follow fake news, be a leader of the truth!

Don’t forward chain letters as, more often than not,  these tend to be annoying and a nuisance to the people receiving them. Provide references where it could improve the conversation so that readers can know that the information is coming from a reputable source. Also, keep in mind that just because there is text next to a person’s photo doesn’t mean that person actually said those words or that they are being contextualized appropriately- even if they did say those words, there could be more to the story. We’re just seeing one phrase out of a longer conversation. Don’t ever post a portion of a quote and assume that that’s all that’s needed.

9. Nothing is Really Private

Keep in mind that online your words will always likely  have a larger audience than you know or intend  because not even private messages or a private wall that only your friends can see are really private. Anything can be screen-captured or repeated, so if you wouldn’t say it over an intercom for all your co-workers and family to hear, don’t say it online.

Even if you control your privacy settings, you must be careful what you share because inappropriate material is still inappropriate, so don’t share something you don’t want someone else to see.

Just because you have privacy settings doesn’t mean it will remain private, so never air out your personal relationships in public – especially online. If you do need to share something, be sure to get permission from everyone involved. Also, I don’t recommend responding to these types of posts because regardless of what you say you will be encouraging the people who posted to continue posting and making these types of posts.

10. If you decide to use a pseudonym, use with care…

If you do choose to use a name that isn’t your given name, don’t use something insulting or inappropriate or use it to do inappropriate or illegal things. Do not give identifying information to anyone you do not know (phone, address, age, email, etc). For more important information on online safety for children: https://www.copewithschoolnyc.com/keeping-your-child-safe-on-social-media/.

11. Respond to Others, Don’t Give Them the Cold Shoulder

If someone asks you something directly, don’t ignore them as that is a form of disrespect. Always at least acknowledge that you’ve seen their question, and let them know that you’ll either answer or not as appropriate.


12. Follow the Rules, Be a Team Player and Good Online Citizen

Keep in mind that every platform and group has its own set of rules and norms and “netiquette” particular and specific to them depending on their audience and purpose, so be sure to read and follow all of the rules of the platform or group that you are participating in online. If you notice that someone isn’t following the rules, be a good online citizen and either politely point them to the rules or, if there is a moderator or moderators, let them know so as to avoid online conflict.

13. Keep it Short and to the Point- Be Succinct!

Put the most important information at the top and make the text easy to scan- make it succinct! This is true for email, posts on social media, and responses for social media, email, and blogs. People tend to skim and sometimes just look at a title or photo and think they know the context, and then they respond based on those assumptions. Help these people out by giving them what they need to know right upfront. If the beginning has enough impact and they are actually interested, then they’ll read the rest.

14. Think Before Sending or Posting, and Think Before You Speak!

Think carefully about the content before sharing or sending it and be sure that you’ve read something carefully enough: You can’t really un-send an email and although you can delete a post, chances are high that it will be seen first. Also, keep in mind that most people don’t read with the intent to understand, but rather with the intent to reply, much like in the midst of a real conversation, so avoid heavy bias as this can come across as illogical or divisive. Ask yourself if it really needs to be posted or said!

15. Protect Your Reputation- Perception is Reality!

We share personal photos, opinions, videos, links to an article that we find interesting on just about any topic, and join in conversations about anything and everything. All of this “personal” sharing can make it easy to forget about professionalism. It’s easier to build a bad reputation than a good one. It can take years to earn trust and one post to ruin it. Remember- “Think before sending, saying, or posting anything!”

16. Be Forgiving of Others and They Will Forgive You!

Remember, It’s okay to disagree- Not everything is intentional, not everyone, knows the rules, and anyone can make a mistake- Everyone deserves to be forgiven! If someone admits they were wrong and asks for forgiveness, we should forgive them and let it go; it shows that they are thinking, reflecting, and growing as they continue interacting online.

Final Thoughts

Following online etiquette, “netiquette” makes the Internet a better place for everyone. It can protect both yourself and others. A relationship and a reputation are easier to damage than repair. This is just as true online. There are real people on the other end of the conversation. People with real problems, friends, family, and concerns. It can all be summed up in one thought: “do unto others as you have them do unto you.”… and if you have been impacted by anything you run across on any online platform or by any interaction with others online and this is negatively affecting your life, your sleep, your mood because you feel significantly disturbed by some element online or some person who is not being a good online citizen, reach out to a professional therapist, to help you work this through!

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