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A guide to online etiquette

Internet etiquette, also known as “netiquette” for short, is the set of rules for online conduct that separate the newbies from the power users. We all make mistakes when we start, right? Especially when trying to join an online community or social network.

If you're experienced online and you still break these rules of common online courtesy, then you're probably just a big jerk-face (to put it bluntly). However, you can avoid being seen as a digital dirtbag by your online fellows by following these simple steps.

Remember the past

Even you were new to the web once, so be kind to those just dipping a toe in the water. When they make mistakes, gently point out where they went wrong; and if you can, do it privately to prevent public humiliation. Real people, unlike real jerks, want to better themselves.

Know your place

Get to know the places where you're posting, and what the audience to that site or community expects. What passes for discourse on a YouTube comment wouldn't pass muster in just about any other forum online.

Be a lurker

It's best to learn your way around an online forum and familiarise yourself with the people who use it by lurking first. That means reading and watching, but not participating until you are sure you're not going to make a mistake.

Search first, ask later

Nothing annoys administrators of online forums more than getting a question that's already been asked and answered. It goes back to lurking first; you should also do a thorough search of the forums to be sure you're not being redundant. Use Google or Bing advanced search if there's no search box in the forum. And definitely read the FAQs (frequently asked questions) of the forum, and check the sticky posts (permanent ones at the top of the forums) for other important info.

Spelling and grammar

It doesn't matter what passes for "writing" in a text message: You will be judged by your ability to communicate online. Take advantage of the tools in your word processor and write what you want to say there with all the spell-check and grammar help you can get. And read it over once before posting.


NOT ONLY IS IT HARD TO READ... DOESN'T THIS LOOK ANNOYING? It's the equivalent of shouting online. Keep your all caps to a minimum, maybe one word to get some REAL emphasis.

Be flame retardant

Flaming someone is engaging in confrontation for confrontation's sake. Think twice before posting anything in anger or frustration. Even if you're 100 per cent correct, and you feel momentarily better, you could look bad – and that post is permanently out there for the world to see.


This point gets a short heading because that's all you need to know: Keep it short.

Reject anonymity

Yes, we know that it's a staple of online life and leads to unheard of freedom, but there's a difference between being a Chinese dissident and complaining about the new clip on YouTube. If you've got a real opinion worth standing behind, then you should have the guts to stand behind it with your real name.

Respect anonymity

That said, sometimes secrets are important. Not everyone can go public, and you shouldn't be the one to out them, even if – especially if – they annoy you. That's just petty, and you're better than that, right?