10 Basic Rules of Netiquette or Internet Etiquette

Know Your Manners When Using Technology

The rules of etiquette are just as important in cyberspace as they are in the real world—and the evidence of poor netiquette can stick around to haunt you for much longer. Follow these basic rules of netiquette to avoid damaging your online and offline relationships.

Make Real People a Priority

Young woman looking irritated by her date who is preoccupied with his phone
jhorrocks / Getty Images

Nothing is more irritating than trying to have a conversation with someone who is engrossed in their phone or computer. If someone is in the room with you, stop what you are doing and look at them. Don't answer your cell phone unless it is to tell the person on the other end that you will call them right back. 

If you are expecting an important call or email, let the person with you know upfront, and apologize for taking the call.

This is doubly true if the person you are with is your date, partner, or child. Constantly checking your email, voicemail, or Facebook while you are with them gives them the message that you don't care about them. And it is extremely annoying to be with someone who is having a conversation that you are not part of.

This is also true of public places, such as restaurants, public transit, stores, elevators, and libraries. Avoid taking phone calls and having conversations in these shared spaces.

Use Respectful Language

Name-calling, cursing, expressing deliberately offensive opinions—if you wouldn't do it to the face of anyone who might conceivably see what you write, don't write it. This goes for any social media site, forum, chat room, or email message, even if you think it can't be traced back to you. It can.

And it's not just what you say, but how you say it. Either take the trouble to use the shift key for capital letters, or write in all lower case, but don't use caps lock. Text in all caps is generally perceived as yelling. Please don't forget to say please and thank you as appropriate.

Share With Discretion

Avoid sending naked sext pictures, drunk pictures, drug use pictures or unedited home video. If you would have a problem with your boss, your parents, or your kids seeing it now, or at any point in the future, don't post it online.

The same goes for phone conversations in public places. Just because you can't see the person you are talking to doesn't mean everyone around you can't see and hear you.

Don't Exclude Others

If you have an in-joke to share with one other person, or a small number of people in a larger online group, send them a private message. Don't make everyone else feel left out by posting an obscure comment to your Facebook status, forum, or Instagram story. 

The same goes for laughing at texted or emailed jokes when you are in the presence of others. If you don't want to share the joke, save it for later.

Choose Friends Wisely

It is insulting to be dropped from someone's friend list on a social media site. So, think about it before sending a friend request or accepting an invitation. If you don't want to be in touch with someone, don't add them in the first place. 

If you want to stay in touch with a colleague for professional reasons, tell them you only use Facebook for close personal friendships. Then join LinkedIn or another professional networking site for more distant contacts.

The obvious exception to this is if you "friend" someone while you are getting along, and then you have a disagreement. Then, by all means, unfriend them if the relationship is beyond repair. But don't torture them with on-again-off-again friending. 

Don't Email Large Files

You might think that sequence of nature pictures with inspirational statements is wonderfully moving. It might even give you a sense of serenity. But that is the last thing it will give the person you email it to if it crashes their server, or depletes their inbox quota. Post large files to your own space and send people a link. Don't attach it to an email.

And if you reply to a message, delete all but the most recent correspondence from the sender, otherwise, the message gets really, really long. One of you will be upset if you have to print it out one day, and the whole conversation uses up 20 pages.

Respect People's Privacy

Don't forward information sent to you without checking with the original sender first. Use BCC (blind carbon copy) rather than CC (carbon copy) if you are sending something out to more than one person. You might think that we are all friends online, but your friends may not want their names and or email addresses publicized to people they do not even know.

The same goes for uploading photos or videos that include other people to public space or sending them out to your own contacts. And remember, if you tag people on Facebook, others can access pictures of those people, unless they have adjusted their privacy settings.

Finally, don't sign up for newsletters and other communications using someone else's email address. 

Fact Check Before Reposting

That cure for cancer might sound pretty impressive, but it will just cause upset if it is a hoax. And urban myths add to the noise of the internet and waste people's time. If you aren't sure of the facts, email it to someone who does know or can find out. Or do a search on Google or snopes.com.

Don't forget that many viruses are circulated via chain letters and invitations to send some seemingly pertinent piece of information to ten of your friends, or everyone in your address book. So don't be naive. Forwarding that message will not bring you good luck, just bad karma. 

Respond to Emails Promptly

By all means, ignore and delete spam, unsolicited messages, and crazy stuff. But if you have given someone your email address or if you are in a position where people could reasonably be expected to contact you by email and your email address is public, have the courtesy to reply to their message within a few days. If it is going to take longer to reply, email them and tell them that. 

Don't simply ignore a question because you don't want to give the answer. Write back saying that it is a difficult question and they might be better off seeking the information elsewhere.

Update Online Information

Don't leave inaccurate information online just because you can't be bothered to update your website. If you are going to be unavailable, for example, don't leave your hours of operation online indicating you will be available. If you can't keep your website up to date, take it down. 

A Word From Verywell

It is easy to lose your sense of what is going on around you when you are using technology, but engaging directly with others is more important than ever. Don't forget the positive impact you can make by putting down your phone and having a real, face-to-face conversation.

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