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Guide to Netiquette

Getting Along Online


When communicating with others online, you may come across the term, “netiquette.” Netiquette refers to a set of unwritten rules for social interactions on the Internet. These rules go all the way back to the early days of Internet socializing (late 1970’s to mid-to-late 1980’s), before there were web pages, blogs and podcasts. At the time, there were mainly government workers and college students chatting with each other, sharing information and playing text-based role-playing games.

The rules of netiquette may feel overwhelming for a newcomer (also known as a newbie or noob), especially since they vary between email, listservs, live chat, forums, and other communication platforms. It is a lot like visiting another country and having to adjust to different customs and social norms. It’s generally recommended that you observe for awhile, if possible, so you can learn by watching others interact. That said, here are a few of the basics to help you get started.

Please don’t SHOUT

Using all capital letters to write your message is considered rude. It should only be used for emphasis or when you’re expressing a lot of emotion, as it is the Internet version of shouting.


Emoticons or smilies are welcome in some spaces and not others. Where appropriate, use them to communicate a tone of voice or facial expression. For example, a smile or face sticking out its tongue may mean, “I’m just teasing you.” A wink may imply sarcasm or irony. A face with a frown suggests frustration. It should be noted that people rarely use emoticons to show that they are angry with the person they are speaking with.


Chatspeak has different names and many variations, some popular with the texting crowd, some popular with gamers. In the simplest form, it refers to such shortcuts as using “u” instead of “you,” dropping capitalization and punctuation and otherwise showing creativity with spelling and grammar rules. Chatspeak is the norm in certain online communities and frowned at in others. This is one of those times where observation is important. If you employ chatspeak where it isn’t normally used, or choose the wrong language, you won’t be understood and may end up ignored.

Flames Hurt

Flaming is posting a hostile message towards another user. Because the Internet doesn’t allow people to express emotion through facial expression, tone and body language, messages are often misunderstood. Sarcasm and humor may just seem like rude comments and playfulness may come off as insulting. Where possible, take a moment to reread comments directed at other people to see if there is a chance they might be misinterpreted. Even if you mean well, you might find yourself being flamed in return. Although it may seem like you should be rude right back, the best bet is almost always to walk away. Disagreements such as these are rarely resolved in a positive manner unless at least one party simply apologizes. In addition, if you’re seen to be in the wrong by the site owner or moderator, you may end up banned entirely from the group.

Lurkers Make People Uncomfortable

Watching a conversation on a forum or listserv without ever participating is called “lurking.” As mentioned previously, it can be a good idea to lurk for awhile until you are familiar with the culture, and certainly before asking any questions. With that in mind, it’s often considered rude to lurk indefinitely, sort of like eavesdropping. If you’ve taken some time to watch how things are done, don’t be shy about introducing yourself and participating in the conversation now and again. Lurking is going to be most annoying for smaller communities where conversations tend to be a bit more personal in nature. On the other hand, if you’ve joined an active group with hundreds of members, chances are that no one will notice.

Do Your Homework

One of the best ways to get flamed is to join a group and ask a question without searching to see if it has already been answered. Chances are, if you are new to a topic, your questions are going to be similar to those asked by other new users. You’ll save yourself and others a lot of time by looking for answers on your own. Yes, it does take a bit more time, but so does answering the same queries over and over.

On a similar vein, if you’re going to join in an ongoing conversation, take some time to read through the archives or previous pages. You’ll save yourself the embarrassment of repeating comments, missing the point and stepping on toes.

Netiquette in Action

It may seem silly to have so many rules and expectations, but it’s no different from the rules you experience in day to day life. Having a common pool of understanding makes for more positive interactions, a shared vocabulary and productive communication.

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