Ten 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.  Following these basic rules of netiquette, to avoid damaging your online and offline relationships.


  • Respect other people's privacy

  • Verify facts before reposting

  • Check messages and respond promptly


  • Name-call or express offensive opinions

  • Post private or embarrassing images or comments

  • Exclude people or talk behind their backs


Real People Take Priority

Young woman is offended while her companion pays more attention to his phone
Ignoring the person you are with while using your cellphone is rude. jhorrocks / Getty Images

Nothing is more irritating than trying to have a conversation with someone who is more interested in their cell phone or computer. I don't care whether you work in tech support and you are multi-tasking -- if someone is in the room with you, stop what you are doing and look at them. And 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. Speaking a foreign language does not excuse this behavior; in fact, it makes it worse.


If You Wouldn't Say it to Someone's Face, Don't Say it Online

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. Perhaps you have no sympathy for drug addicts and think they should all be locked up or forced to starve. But my site is written primarily for them, so save me the trouble of deleting your message before stating this in offensive terms. The same goes for any forum, chat room, or email.

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. All caps are generally perceived as yelling. Please don't forget to say please and thank you as appropriate.


If You Wouldn't Show it in Public, Don't Share it Online

Naked sext pictures, drunk pictures, drug-use pictures, 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.  You need only look at what happened to Anthony Weiner to pay heed to this warning.

The same goes for cellphone conversations in public places -- I don't want my 5-year-old learning his first curse words on the train, nor do I want him to hear about how wasted you were last night, or about your sexual exploits.  Just because you can't see the person you are talking to doesn't mean the rest of us can't see -- or hear -- you.


Don't Exclude Your Audience

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, listserv or forum.  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.


Don't "Friend" then "Unfriend" People

No one believes you have 1,000 friends, but it is still insulting to be dropped from someone's friend list. Think about it before adding them or accepting their invitation. If you don't want to be in touch with them, don't add them in the first place. If you want to stay in touch for professional reasons, tell them you only use Facebook for close personal friendships, and 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 Overload System Resources With Enormous 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, depletes their inbox quota so their emails get bounced for a week before they realize, or uses up the last bit of space they needed to complete an important assignment.  So post it to your own webspace 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 your acquaintances that 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 such using someone else's email address.  Or at least check with them whether they want to receive it first.  


Don't Repost Without Checking the Facts

That cure for cancer might sound pretty impressive, but it will just cause upset if it is a hoax. And urban myths just 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 just do a Google search.

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. 


Check and Respond to Email 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, say, two weeks.  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 That People Depend Upon

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. 

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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