What is netiquette? Rules to follow on the internet

Anton P. | October 10, 2022

Netiquette or internet etiquette refers to guidelines for being polite, respectful, and civil online. Such rules guide how you present yourself on the internet and directly or indirectly interact with others.

In many cases, rules of conduct online borrow many principles from real-life etiquette books. For instance, the same mutual respect should apply to any online communication, be it an email or instant message.

So, find out the main netiquette rules for how to be a socially responsible member of internet communities.

What does netiquette mean?

Netiquette (net + etiquette) presents a ruleset for how users should behave in an online environment. Many principles already applicable to face-to-face communications should be relevant on the internet, too. Thus, it is important to propagate responsible and well-mannered usage of digital technologies.

Campaigns like Dial it Down aim to spread awareness of how users should understand good netiquette. Furthermore, it emphasizes the responsibilities every internet user or netizen should remember.

For instance, while users embrace freedom of speech, its boundaries are equally important. Social media or anonymous comments should not be hotbeds for derogatory insults.

However, we see a lot of racist, homophobic, misogynist, or islamophobic slander on digital platforms. The recent Social Media Safety Index showcased that most social media platforms offer little protection against hate and threats directed at LGBTQ communities.

The lack of accountability and prevention from platforms like Facebook and TikTok are deep-rooted issues. However, it also reflects the tainted mindset of people pushing hate speech and harassment.

Which of these is an example of proper netiquette?

Netiquette guidelines are usually all about doing the right thing. However, it is easy to disregard correct behavior when we dissociate ourselves from others online.

Sitting behind a screen, internet trolls can post content strictly to provoke or hurt others. The presumed privacy and anonymity online lets people share ideas they would never say to real people.

Considering the extensive tracking of users’ actions online, this anonymity is a false sense of security. Many lawsuits involve online insults, and even Facebook posts can put you in hot water legally.

For instance, let’s see which of these is an example of proper netiquette:

  • Scenario A. You frequently post on social media discussing recent events. Your posts include swear words and hate towards certain members of society.
  • Scenario B. You go to a birthday party with one of your friends. After that, you post numerous pictures from the evening without consulting your friend about it.
  • Scenario C. You raise questions about a specific comment on a YouTube video. Even though you disagree with it, you try to explain your reasons as best as you can.
  • Scenario D. You use an ethnic slur in a comment on a news article.

The correct answer is C. Sometimes, recognizing improper netiquette is easy in such theoretical scenarios. However, drawing the line in real life seems challenging for many.

Golden rule: think before you post

Dozens of tone-deaf and inconsiderate statements get posted online. A recent tweet from Elon Musk about ending the war in Ukraine instantly received criticism.

From the netiquette viewpoint, comments made without proper research can be just as hurtful. Thus, people should weigh their opinions on sensitive topics to avoid hurting involved parties.

Another crucial component of toxic posts is context. A professional trainer tweeted about her home renovations just as Hurricane Ian made landfall.

Thus, remember that no post exists in a vacuum. Timing and global events can significantly shift the narrative.

Seven netiquette rules to live by online

Following the rules of netiquette is about being respectful in any online environment. However, what behaviors indicate that someone is a socially responsible netizen? Mostly, it means considering others’ time, feelings, and wishes.

Of course, netiquette rules can be much stricter in corporate environments. For instance, particular guidelines might be set for communications within company chats. Thus, what might be appropriate in personal settings will not always be acceptable at work.

  1. Do not post information without permission

Posting personal information online is a questionable decision in most cases. However, the stakes are higher if you share information belonging to other people.

It is best to avoid posting any kind of information involving others. But here are some common netiquette mishaps seen across online platforms:

  • Posting embarrassing images of others.
  • Sharing personal feelings, venting online, blaming someone directly, or hinting at their identity.
  • Sharing photoshopped pictures of people.
  • Posting deepfakes with other people’s faces.
  1. Share with caution

Before hitting the send button, consider how readers or recipients perceive your message. Furthermore, some details should never end up on online platforms. Oversharing generates even more digital footprints and can also trigger physical security concerns.

Some netiquette rules to follow when it comes to sharing information about yourself include:

  • Never share information that could affect your reputation now or in the future.
  • Think about the circumstances surrounding your post and whether it won’t be offensive to certain people.
  • Sarcasm is difficult to convey online. Consider your tone and the fact that some people might misunderstand you.
  • Give yourself some time to cool off so you would not be rude or hasty with your statements.
  1. Be civil and avoid swear words

The key rule of netiquette is that users should be respectful to each other. Even heated arguments on online platforms can remain courteous. However, insults, humiliating comments, and slander are common, especially in the heat of a moment.

Online classrooms also have unique netiquette rules, like respecting teachers and not posting inappropriate or hurtful comments.

So, answer the following questions before posting:

  • Would you say that during a face-to-face conversation?
  • Are you attacking an individual on a personal level?
  • Would you be proud of the message if your parents read it?
  • Are you explaining your standpoint in the best way possible?
  • Are emotions clouding your judgment?
  1. Careful not to spread misinformation

News spread on numerous channels, from respectable news outlets to TikTok videos. Thus, it becomes easy not to get the full story. Misinformation might spread unintentionally when people do not verify the information they read.

Netiquette entails that you should be sure that the information you share reflects the real situation. If you are not sure, you should state that in your posts. Ideally, online users should also include sources for their statements.

  1. Send replies promptly

Netiquette also entails that people should not waste each other’s time. For instance, if a coworker or friend asks you for a favor, it is impolite to leave them on read.

Respond to that email or instant message as soon as you can. Even a polite decline is a more courteous answer than silence. Your peers will appreciate such immediate responses.

  1. Proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling

Guidelines of netiquette also include the use of proper grammar and punctuation. After all, the messages you put out online should be concise and clear. It minimizes the risk of miscommunication.

It is also best to avoid heavy slang, uncommon abbreviations, or other informal registers. However, it depends on the context.

Social media posts, corporate emails, and most official communications should use proper language. Luckily, your friends might have no problem receiving emotes or internet slang via instant messaging apps.

  1. Do not send or share spam

We all have that one Facebook friend who keeps sharing posts hoping to win goods from various businesses. While not malicious, such repetitive reposts can fill other users’ news feeds with content that does not interest them.

Thus, netiquette recommends avoiding sending repetitive chains of messages or posts. Such behavior could lead to blocks from individual people or platforms.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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