The clock reads 11.20 PM and you really should be asleep, catching up on some much-needed shut-eye. Instead, you’re scrolling through Instagram and watching Snapchat stories of your favourite vloggers and stars. Thanks to the era of technology and smartphones, we’re constantly connected, no matter the hour. From obsessively checking emails to keeping up with the latest antics of Kim K on Instagram to relentlessly updating Twitter statuses to oversharing photos on Facebook, we’ve become reliant on technology. It’s okay to love social media. Really. We’re not judging how many hours you spend engaging online. But, how you engage with others is unbelievably important, which is to say your online reputation is as important as your in-person one.
Irrespective of what we’re doing, whether it’s standing in line at the supermarket’s check-out counter or taking a taxi home, more often than not, we pass the time scrolling through the latest on social media, or updating our profiles with the things happening around us. It’s easy to open Instagram Stories, for example, and record a video of the throngs of people gathered outside a collapsed building, causing bumper to bumper traffic. Perhaps you’d caption it, “So much traffic, kill me now.” Maybe you’ll even throw in what you think is a suitable emoticon. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might as well upload the whole post onto Facebook, too.
A video and caption like the above would probably take all of two minutes, but often, we don’t consider the long-term effects our words may have on someone reading them. The families of possible victims are bound to be on social media, and a post like this is hurtful and inconsiderate.
Observing good ‘netiquette’ (good manners on the Internet), where you remain sensitive to issues, respect others’ privacy, maintain good manners, and not spam people with messages is vital for a serene digital experience. Additionally, when you post on social, you’re doing so in isolation. As a result, your audience can’t hear your tone, and sarcasm, irony or humour can easily be misinterpreted in any given conversation, leading to blows in reputations, careers and friendships—just ask Zac Efron who came under a barrage of criticism after posting about Martin Luther King Jr. and 10 million IG followers in the same tweet). So what should you really bear in mind each time you have the urge to post online?
Respect Is Key
When you’re about to leave a comment or tag someone in a post, a good rule of thumb is to take a minute to reflect if you would say the words to the individual IRL. If you wouldn’t, the post is definitely not a good idea. Similarly, constantly tagging someone in comments or re-tweeting others’ personal posts is a form of harassment and targeting, and can lead to cyberbullying.
Avoid uploading anything incriminating, like embarrassing photos or videos of your friends, unless they’re totally okay with it being uploaded. Potential employers are quick to pick up on inappropriate content, making them reconsider if you’re really a good fit for the role. On another note, trolls are always on the lookout for posts which can exploit its owners, so don’t put those you care about in unfortunate positions. We all need to do our part to try to make sure the Internet is as safe as possible.
As a good digital native, respect should also extend to email. Spamming someone’s inbox until you get a reply is not a great way to make a first impression. Neither is it acceptable to be rude. Only put into emails what you’d be comfortable saying in person. With email, it’s easy to pull up evidence from yeeeaars ago, so try not to shoot yourself in the foot.
A Digital Trail
Always know that no matter your social media privacy settings, anything you post will be in cyberspace forever (yes, even Snapchats)! You’re essentially leaving a trace – a digital fingerprint of sorts – that isn’t difficult to bring to light (even the most outrageous, deleted posts!). This is not to say that you shouldn’t post anything at all, but it certainly should wake you up to the fact that whatever you share with the world should be more curated. Your online feeds aren’t your diaries; they’re ways for you to connect with, and learn from, interesting people. So do forego your rave about your annoying aunt, and instead post engaging and fun articles that generate the good kind of buzz. That’s how the pros do it…
Keep Anger In Check
It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter controversial topics on social that may leave you fuming. Although completely natural, it’s always best not to act immediately on your anger (or any emotion, for that matter). The best course of action is to sleep on it, giving yourself the chance to distance yourself from your computer and reflect, and preventing passive-aggressive posts on your ex’s profile (squirm) or ranting inappropriately over the price of haircuts (true, but unnecessary). Thinking twice and giving yourself some pre-posting time is a great way to be sure that nothing you say will be hurtful and cause antagonism in cyberspace, leading to consequences you cannot predict.
DON’T USE ALL CAPS
Whether you’re emailing your aunt in Australia or posting a heartfelt birthday wish on Facebook to your sister, do yourself a favour and remember that typing in ALL CAPS is a form of shouting. We don’t want that, now do we?
Cringeworthy Email Addresses
Trust me, never create silly email addresses. A few years down the line, you’re going to wince every time you have to fill out your contact details in any documentation (totally guilty!). For instance, typing firstname.lastname@example.org into a form is probably not going to get you the loan you’ve been eyeing. If you’re setting up a new email account, take a moment to consider if the handle you’ve chosen sets a good impression. If it meets expectations, go for it!
Safety Is Important
Adjust your security settings on all your social platforms to your liking. And, remember to go in and update them at least once a year. Most settings tend to change with every software or program update, so staying current is necessary.
Use different usernames and passwords for each platform. Utilising the same login credentials for all the sites you access is never a good idea. Anything from hacking to identity theft can take place, so set up different passwords for maximum protection.
Be aware of who you befriend online. Remember when you were younger and your parents would caution you to not speak to strangers? As adults, we should ideally be able to figure out someone with an agenda. But in all honesty, if you’re not that tech-savvy, it might be difficult to fathom if the person trying to friend you on Facebook is really the pretty high school sports captain you haven’t seen since you graduated. It’s okay to not accept any requests until you’re absolutely certain of the profile owner’s identity. Vice versa, it’s not the best idea to send friend requests to people you do not know. Stalking on the sly is a-okay (everyone does it) but wanting full access to a stranger’s profile? That’s a little inappro.
In a digital world, online etiquette becomes a key indicator of your morals, judgments and personality. How you behave online, the language you use in posts, and the content on your profiles define how you might behave in person. No more is social media your secret hobby—it’s now your social portfolio and like you carefully cultivate your cocktail party chatter, the same rules should apply to your daily Facebook posts. That’s how you’ll win at this game!
This article was originally published as ‘‘Fess Up! Do You Observe The Rules Of Digital Etiquette?’ in the July 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more life advice and tips, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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