The internet isn’t nearly as untamed as it once was, but there are still standards that can go a long way online. Properly observed, these simple rules can prevent escalation.

      1. Know the difference between private and public. – Court rulings have set the precedent that there is no expectation of privacy on the internet. That being said, email is more private than Facebook, regardless of your privacy settings. Never hash out an argument on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media. If the other party refuses to keep it private, block them. After all, the only reason to go public with an argument is to feed on the drama. If the other party truly has a legitimate grievance, and desires a real resolution of the problem, they will be satisfied with email, text, phone call, video chat, or face-to face. There is no reason to air dirty laundry in public.

      2. Remember the concept of digital permanence. – I don’t care how bad it gets, your feelings now are temporary. Once something is online, it gets posted and spread around. You will not be able to track down and delete every copy, nor do you have the right to. You posted it in a public forum (the entire internet is a public forum whether we like it or not), therefore the public will consume it as they wish. Post with caution. You will never live down those nude selfies you put on Twitter or Instagram when you were drunk. That picture of your buddy from that epic party you put on Facebook? Yeah, you just damaged his future career for all time. How lucky he is to have a friend like you. Which of course leads to #3.

      3. Employers will see it. – No matter what settings, no matter what site, employers and potential employers can and will see what you put out online and they will use it in their hiring/promotion decisions. There are many ways that they can find out what you don’t want them to see, and most of them are legal.

      4. Employers, this is for you! – In spite of #3, it is ENTIRELY unethical to ask for Facebook passwords and passwords to other social media! The Terms of Service for Facebook and other social media sites often prohibit users from giving out their passwords. These Terms of Service can constitute a legal contract. It is unethical at best to require an applicant to violate a contract into which they’ve entered with another entity. Zuckerburg even considered suing employers using said practice. I wish I could find out how that went. I get that employers are trying to see the private posts to see if an applicant is putting up a false front, but there are better ways to do it. No employer EVER needs administrator access to an applicant or employee’s personal social media account. NO employer needs the power to edit an applicant’s nor employee’s personal social media account, nor the power to post as the applicant/employee, nor the power to change the password, nor in any way hack the account. It DOES NOT matter if these things are the intent of the company or not. These are the only things that a password can give you that other, more ethical means cannot. It is inappropriate, unprofessional, unethical, and ought to be illegal. Take it from someone who knows, it is better to be unemployed than to hand over the keys to your online identity. If you do hand over your password to an employer, prospective or otherwise, you would’ve been better of to hand over your house and car keys, wallet, checkbook, and credit cards! Any employer who engages in the practice has earned my disgust and utmost ire. There just simply isn’t ANY call for it.

      5. Tone does not always transfer well in text. – This can include sarcasm. Keep this rule in mind when posting and when reading. Give the other person benefit of the doubt. There are times when tone is obvious, but the obvious intent is not always the right one. Much of the offense caused online is unintentional. Keep your objections calm and reasonable. Keep in mind that not everyone will share your opinion. Given enough time, every person on this planet will offend everyone else. That is just part of the human condition. Also, beware of trolls. Trolls are people who intentionally post shocking things for no other reason that to stir up drama. Which introduces #6.

      6. Don’t be a troll. – No one likes a troll, not online and not in real life. If you wouldn’t say it to the face of someone who could smear you across the pavement, don’t post it online.

      7. Your social media accounts are your online identity. – Treat your username and password like you would your driver’s license, cash, credit cards, checkbook, social security #, etc. Your online identity is yours, DO NOT hand it over to someone else. It’s one thing to have your spouse check your email, it is another to leave it lying around. Also, you have every right to use the tools the social media site gives you. Don’t take any crap from people who get angry because you deleted a post/picture/video, removed your app, shut down your account/page/site, didn’t update, blocked them, deleted their comment on your post/picture/video/app, didn’t reply, etc. It’s YOUR account. Do with it as YOU wish.

      8. Never post about being out of the house until you are back. – This is more security than netiquette, and seems kind of obvious, but it bears stating. How many of your online friends do you really know? How many of them will repost/share/retweet? The truth is, you have absolutely NO idea who is reading what you put out there. Thieves do watch social media to find out when someone won’t be home. There was even a site dedicated to reposting such information, but I won’t post it here.

      9. Don’t sweat small stuff and repair the big deals. – Everyone will eventually offend everyone else given time. It is just part of the human condition. There are too many toes to avoid stepping on when you don’t count the unreasonable people of the world. If you do cause unintended offense, reevaluate what you are putting out there. Is the offending part of the message something you truly believe or intend to say? If the offense is worth causing (i.e. your expression of your pro-life stance offends a pro-choice abortionist), then stand by your message. If your offense is not worth causing (i.e. a joke you thought was funny spreads a misconception you were previously unaware of), then apologize as publicly as the original offense was caused, and remove the offending post. Yes, digital permanence means the damage was done. But consider this: posting an unintentional offense may be innocent, but leaving it up after the problem has been brought to your attention is an indication of apathy. Show you care.

      10. Don’t spam. – This should go without saying, but it still happens all the time. Yes, people are trying to make money on the internet, myself included. But there are times and places where advertising is inappropriate, like the comments section or your friend’s Facebook page. I know what desperate financial straits are like more than most. But that kind of advertising is neither an effective nor decent way to rectify the situation (much like the telemarketing I used to do, blegh!) No one likes spam and it’ll only aggravate people. The site/social media page/email address you’re posting on belongs to someone else, and it is their decision what they will or won’t advertise. Not yours. It’s just plain rude.

      11. Don’t tweet from the toilet. – Do I really need to explain this? Grow up.

      12. Don’t say things online that you never would in real life. – The perceived anonymity of the internet has resulted in rash actions and loudmouths who would cower if they were to meet the object of their rant in the real world. Not all interactions stay on the internet and no one deserves such rash treatment. Rule of thumb, never post angry items right away. Type them up and reread them. Then go get a snack. Reread the item when you return. Chances are, you’ll wind up deleting the angry item. If this is the case, then you can bet you would’ve regretted posting it earlier.

      13. Never use tl;dr. – I’ve ranted about that before.

      14. Read thoroughly before getting up in arms. – Remember Read Through and Thoroughly?

      15. Don’t be online while walking or driving. – Watch where you are going. I’ve been guilty of wandering my local library while riding their wifi, but driving with distraction(s) you are voluntarily adding to the task is unacceptable.

      16. ?

I’m leaving #16 blank for a reason. There are more common courtesies for the online world than I could list. If you can think of any, feel free to add them in the comments below.

The internet was once a wild west where people would run amok under the shield provided by the separation of our online and real lives. But as technology progresses, that gap is narrowing. Many of the common sense rules of the real world now apply to the digital one. When your online life and your physical one are compared side by side, who are you? Make no mistake, we can no longer wear two faces as our virtual and physical worlds become one. Don’t become a hypocrite.


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