Netiquette Guidelines to Follow for Respectful Online Interactions

Lauren Schenkman at Reader’s Digest: Don’t get caught using poor netiquette. Experts share the best practices for online behavior.

What is netiquette?

Just like it sounds, netiquette is etiquette on the net. Even though online platforms can seem like the Wild West at times, there’s no need to add to the chaos—the digital world still requires rules of conduct…

Use respectful language

It’s important to remember that everything you do online leaves a digital footprint. If you wouldn’t say something or use certain language in person, then refrain from doing it online. Using common etiquette, including no name-calling, cursing or writing anything deliberately offensive, is all wise, whether you’re writing an email, social media post or conversing in chat rooms.

Debate like a gentleperson

If it’s a controversial topic you’d avoid at Thanksgiving dinner, consider avoiding debating about it online. But if it’s something you feel strongly about, there are certainly ways to debate respectfully. While online debates can be notoriously tricky—hence the term “flame wars”—Zhu Scott says you don’t necessarily have to shy away from participating. “I think having a debate on issues is a wonderful thing,” she says, as long as you’re open to learning.

Instead of trying to overwhelm others with superior opinions, think of it as an exercise in mutual listening, where the desired result is that everybody learns more about the truth. Good online debate netiquette means “holding the spirit to seek for truth, even if the truth is very different from what I originally thought,” Zhu Scott says.

If you want to speak up in a cordial way about a troubling post, a good place to start is asking where the information came from, Halbert says. “It’s a way of challenging something without saying, ‘Hey this is wrong,’” Halbert says. “You have to take your emotion out of it,” and focusing on whether the content is factual helps to do so.

Fact check before reposting

We’ve all been there: We see a piece of incendiary content and our first urge is to take action and share. “It’s super easy to get your blood boiling, but often what we see could be taken out of context,” says Zhu Scott. Headlines and social posts may be written in an attempt to anger users and keep their attention—not for some lofty purpose, but to make more money, she continues. “When people get angry, they tend to interact with each other more. And the more attention [someone] can create, the more revenue dollars a [piece of] social media content can generate.”

Proper netiquette says to pause and fact check. With growing concerns about misinformation and disinformation, it’s best to look at everything with a critical eye, says James Halbert, who studies online interactions and is an associate professor in industrial organization and psychology at Adler University. “When you’re finding information online, always go to the source.” For Halbert and his students, that means tracing claims back to peer-reviewed articles, rather than relying on Wikipedia. “It’s good to keep a watchful eye on that material. It may not be true.”…

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