How Not to Be a Jerk Online

3 minute read

It goes without saying that being active on the Internet requires a thick skin. With social media tools like Facebook, we now all create content whether we recognize it or not. Our opinions are open for criticism.

In times of war, the enemy is dehumanized and even demonized. Part of the equation for the escalation in arms is in distancing ourselves from other humans. It’s morally more convenient to fire a gun than to bash somebody over the head with a war hammer.

This same distancing happens on the Internet. It’s nothing new. Technology has its dark side. Face to face interactions become phone calls and text messages. Email correspondence is cast aside in favour of anonymous identities.

The Internet brings out the worst in some people. Anonymity seems to grant license to say hateful things and behave badly. We would never call someone an idiot to their face, but how many times do you see derisive remarks and personal attacks on blog posts and Facebook comments? I know I’m guilty of it from time to time. Perhaps you are too.

Here, in no particular order, are some guideposts so you don’t end up being a jerk online:

  • Don't publicly announce you're unfollowing someone on Twitter or unfriending them on Facebook. Conversely, don't get upset that you've been unfriended. It's okay. Not everyone likes the same things. Personally, I think that cats playing pianos are awesome. You may not. The point is, it doesn't have to be a big public thing.
  • People are going to disagree with you. Be okay with that. The world is diverse and how boring would it be if we all agreed on everything? Respect diversity, in all its forms. Every engagement is an opportunity to learn from one another.
  • Don't argue with someone anonymously. If you're going to disagree and make your opposition known, be accountable to your opinion. In the same vein, don't be someone else online. That's just not cool.
  • While you should reject anonymity and eschew it most of the time, certain secrets and topics require it. Respect anonymity in others.
  • Be careful of juking soapbox topics. Don't comment on a post about a movie trailer: "if everyone showed this much enthusiasm for church, the world would be a better place." Don't do that.
  • Be careful of sarcasm. It doesn't translate reliably online and more often than not, it comes across as mocking.
  • Don't mock people. Don't be a bully.
  • When someone makes a mistake online, don't ram it down their throat, especially newbies. You were new to the Interent once before, Grasshopper. Savvy folk aren't perfect either. Be helpful and keep it one-on-one. Adopt a learner mindset.
  • If you're new to a community or online forum, take the time to explore and learn the rules, cadence and conversational tone of the site. Each one is a little different. What passes muster on one site, doesn't on another. Sometimes, being a lurker is a good thing. When you do chime in, be gracious and ask questions if you are uncertain.
  • About asking questions, take the time to search for common questions yourself. Nearly every site has an FAQ page or some helpful section where solutions to common challenges are posted. It's respectful of everyone's time, including yours.
  • Spelling and grammar count everywhere, not just writing sites. If you want to be taken seriously online, in any forum, you will be judged by your ability to communicate well. At least read your comments and posts over before clicking the 'submit post' button.
  • Don't type angry. Even if you are 100% correct, the consequences to your relationships and reputation may be hard to overcome. Everything on the Internet has a certain amount of permanence. Remember that.
  • Brevity. Keep your replies and comments short.
  • Don't talk about other people's personal issues without their permission. Gossip is ugly.
  • Give credit. Don't post stuff that isn't yours without giving attribution to where it's found. "I found this on the Internet" is not good enough. Take the time to cite sources. Even on Facebook.

And lastly, remember:

  • Those are human beings on the other side of the Internet. They have hopes, dreams, fears and feelings, just like you.

Don’t be a jerk.

So, do you have any tips to add to the list? Sound off in the comments.

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