The word netiquette is a combination of ’net’ (from internet) and ’etiquette’. It means respecting other users’ views and displaying common courtesy when posting your views to online discussion groups.
As you become involved with online discussion groups, you will find that each group has its own accepted rules of behaviour. Many of these have come about because of technical limitations.
For example, on an email discussion list – where not everyone may have seen past messages – it’s considered polite to quote from a message you’re replying to, so your response has context. It’s also considered polite to keep those quotes short and relevant. On a web-based forum, however, where the original messages are visible to all, quoting is often unnecessary.
The basic rules
- Refrain from personal abuse. You may express robust disagreement with what someone says, but don’t call them names or threaten them with personal violence.
- Don’t spam. That is, don’t repeatedly post the same advertisement for products or services. Most sites have strict and specific rules about who is allowed to post ads and what kind of ads they are.
- Write clearly and succinctly. On a site that has many non-native English speakers, avoid using slang they may not understand.
- Remember that your posts are public. They can be read by your partner, your children, your parents, or your employer.
- Stay on-topic, especially when you’re new. Don’t post about football in a hair-care forum or about hair care in a gardening forum!
- Don’t expect other people to do your homework for you. If you’re looking for technical help, for example, don’t ask questions you could easily answer yourself by reading the manual or online help provided with the product. When you do ask for help, include details of what attempts you’ve made to solve the problem. It will save time and also show people that you are making an effort to help yourself.
- Do not post copyrighted material to which you do not own the rights. Sites vary in how strict they are about this, but as well as facing the possibility of legal action by the rights holder, you may also get the site sued.
- The site’s owner, perhaps assisted by one or more moderators, has the final say in enforcing the rules.
Almost every site has a page for newcomers that describes its rules of good behaviour. Usually this page will appear as the terms and conditions you must agree to when you open your account. However, sites may have additional information. You should read all of it.
Check to see if the site has a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section. FAQs typically include questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times. If you have any queries about site protocol, you will most likely discover the dos and don’ts here.
Finally, it’s always wise to see what the discussion group have been talking about for a week or two before you begin to post your messages. Online, as in real life, it can take a long time to get past a bad first impression.