Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Netiquette for Nationalists

I believe the growth of the internet is an overwhelmingly positive phenomenon (as I have argued, for example, here), and as it takes on an ever more important role in our daily interactions with one another it is worth reiterating (or for some people, establishing) a few ground rules for our online dealings. In the olden days (i.e. pre-internet days) there was no such thing as internet trolls. Nobody fell out over comments on Facebook or misconstrued email messages.

Nowadays a person's careless use of the internet and a failure to acknowledge that different people use this medium in very different ways can lead to conflict which is both thoroughly predictable and avoidable if people just stick to a few basic ground rules.

Despite the title of this article, which I simply liked the sound of, these rules apply to everyone in their internet dealings.

It is important to remember that the tone of a written phrase, whilst perfectly apparent to the writer, will often not be so to the reader. So when writing emails and comments on websites etc, what might appear to you to be a well-intentioned and wry witticism might well be interpreted as a sarcastic rebuke by the recipient. If what you write could be interpreted either way, it is probably better to assume that the latter will apply and alter what you have written accordingly.

With this in mind, you should never send 'angry' emails to colleagues (the same goes for text messages and any other electronic communications of course) as by the time they read them you might well have cooled off and forgotten all about your foul mood at the time of writing, but by then the damage will have been done. And even if you are not typing under the influence of anger, poor formulation might well give the impression that you are.

I know a few people who send emails that come across as overly blunt (yes I know, ironic coming from me some would say, but bear with me) and quite aggressive and I know for a fact that they will not have been so intended but merely read that way because that is how those people write emails. They would never talk to anyone in such a 'tone' yet they write emails in this way, albeit wholly unintentionally. I have politely pointed this out to them with a few basic suggestions as to how to remedy this, which has had mixed results. 

And whilst formal emails must obviously be kept formal (and often the correct tone is easier to maintain in such communications in any case, I find), for informal communications the use of exclamation marks or even the highly versatile 'smiley' and its many variations, whilst something that might cause some to shudder, at least allows an obviously friendly tone to be maintained.

At the root of much of the trouble that emanates from our online interactions with one another is the fact that our behavioural has not managed to keep up with the technological development of cyberspace over the past decade and a half. As such, the most basic rules of interaction - good manners online - do not come naturally to many as they have simply never been taught.

If we all give a bit of more thought to how we behave to one another online then everyone will all much better off.

The above is a discussion of one small aspect of this topic. The following links explore the wider topic of netiquette and related issues.

Network Etiquette: core netiquette rules

Taki's Magazine: How to Comment Without Getting Killed

BBC: What is Netiquette?

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