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What is Netiquette?

Sandra Prior
Jun 22, 2008
Netiquette is an attempt to foist table manners on the Net user who might care - a sort of book of right and proper manners for all young and fair societies. Or generally, a set of guidelines Net users should follow to be good Net citizens.

On the Net, no one knows if you're pink, green, fat, sick, psycho or just plain nice and this makes it a potentially anarchic medium; people are more likely to behave badly online because they think they're anonymous. Although we get by with minimal blood and bruising, that's probably because it's difficult to axe murder someone through a modem.

A Changing Net

In the beginning, the Net was a close-knit gathering of tech-heads. But when the first browser arrived in 1993, delivering exciting, colorful, easy to read web pages, it signaled the end of computer-geek domination. As the Net opened up to the mob known as the masses, the online world started to change. Users are now less technically literate and are often unaware of the unspoken rules that veteran Net users still abide by.

The rules of Netiquette were once well discussed - now they're neglected and almost forgotten. Netiquette is supposed to be a good thing but who decides the rules of Netiquette?

Numerous persons have written about it and we have to trust that they know what they're talking about. If controlling people's behavior was an achievable task, though, the world wouldn't have the killings and nastiness it has today.

It's all very well saying 'do unto others as you'd have others do unto you' but that diktat hasn't worked well in the last few years of human existence. People either ignore it, or they're twisted individuals who enjoy being raped, pillaged tortured and killed. Still, trying to make everyone be nice to each other is a worthy goal for those Utopians among us.

What are the Rules?

Netiquette covers lots of issues, but the first thing it tries to teach anyone who might have forgotten is; although you may be interacting with a keyboard and machine in your dingy front room, you're actually dealing with human beings. When you chat, send an email, or post a heated rant to a newsgroup, remember there's a bundle of emotion hanging on the other end of your words. Use a smiley if you need to and don't say anything you wouldn't say face to face. If you're angry, always think twice before venting your feelings across the room - once you've sent heated words, it's hard to retract them.

People often forget how to write when they get on the Net. Email, for example, permits you to be a little less formal than you might be in a letter but that doesn't mean all courtesy should be dumped in the recycle bin. A two sentence message with no hello, no introduction, no ending, and no real point in the middle basically screams, 'I'm completely wasting your time - delete me now'.

It makes good sense on the Net to 'lurk before you leap' - a well used term in newsgroup Netiquette. Before you start posting messages to newsgroups, or anywhere else on the Net, hang around for a while to get a feel for the sort of things people are discussing. If you waltz in with an irrelevant piece of drivel, or talk about something which has already been discussed to death, you're going to get a virtual kicking.

That might sound unfair, but some proponents of Netiquette like to violate their own principles and deliver retribution for breaching Netiquette - even if you're so new you don't know there are any rules to follow.

Netiquette doesn't endorse confrontational and offensive language without due cause. In other words, don't try to wind people up just for the hell of it. It's harder to deal with violent clashes on the Net - you can't just inflict a bloody nose and be done with it. Remember the old adage, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.'

A heap of nonsense - words hurt. And words spoken online don't melt into thin air, they live on for a long time in hard print on a database somewhere, and conclusive evidence that can't be erased so easily, ready to be retrieved by your employer, spouse or anyone else when you least expect it.
About the Author
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