We Need Some Social Media Etiquette


It’s a sad fact of the internet that it will never be civilized. Maybe this makes me sound like a pessimist, but I’ve actually been on the internet since before there WAS an internet (raise your hand if you actually know what a BBS was), and we had to deal with trolls even back then. It’s been over twenty years, and there are kids whose parents weren’t even old enough to be among those troublemakers out there now clogging the information highways and byways with their own version of “wit.” So let’s all accept that we will never be rid of these little minds and move on to the things we can control, which is our own behavior.

What particularly saddens me in this regard is that every few months something comes along that really shouldn’t require a new set of rules, and yet somehow it does. This is becoming more prominent as social media, the cancer of the internet age, continues to dominate the landscape in more and more mutated forms. It would seem obvious that certain basic courtesies should be sufficient to carry us from one platform to the next, and yet every time some new contender comes along to become the hot new product, people flock to it and begin the cycle of awful behavior all over again despite the fact that they themselves are complaining about that same awful behavior.

Speaking as someone who has, in fact, engaged in some of this awful behavior in the past, allow me to be the first to apologize and take the lead in proposing some sensible reforms. If we all voluntarily started to follow these guidelines, the internet would become a tolerable place. If even some folks (my friends) were to do this, I could at least enjoy my little corner of it.

First, please stop with the cryptic comments. “Well, that could have gone better.” Whether it’s tweets, status updates, blog posts, or anyplace else, you are not communicating, you are infuriating. It doesn’t engender sympathy; it just makes you look like (a) a needy tool or (b) a whiny douche. If you’re particularly lucky you get option (c), both (a) and (b). Whatever the problem is, just spell it out or suck it up. We will be here for you (we are your friends and family after all), or we won’t (in which case you really need to get some better friends, and maybe stop taking your problems to the internet.)

Second, please, for the love of god, stop “checking in” everywhere you go. I really couldn’t give less of a shit where you had lunch, or how many times you visited Bowl-a-Rama last month. And don’t tell me I can “just change the settings” on my social media; you are inflicting this on me, not the other way around, and considering how often Facebook changes my settings for me we both know that’s about as effective as voting Republican in Washington, D.C. anyway.

Third, stop perpetuating falsehoods. The internet is so full of misinformation these days it’s tragic, and the speed with which people assist the spread of this misinformation is mind-boggling. The only thing worse than the trolls who do it for fun are the people who honestly believe they are helping others. You are doing more harm than good, usually because you can’t be bothered to check your facts, and in this day and age that is inexcusable. Snopes.com. Learn it, live it, love it. If you intend to post, forward, or share a single “fact” on the internet in the future, just look it up first. They aren’t infallible, but it’s a start.

Fourth, give some thought to what you do online. I know it’s easy and getting easier every day to do really amazing things in the cyber space, but that also means it’s getting easier every day to do some really annoying and atrocious things too. Given the entire history of humankind, which do you think is more likely to happen, especially when you don’t even give thought to what you do?

Here’s an example: say you’re on some popular social site that lets you post items you are interested in by category. We’ll give it a nice generic name, like Post-trest. Now suppose I can opt-out of following categories of yours I’m not interested in, like cooking. Hey, we both win. I still follow you, so you stay popular, but I don’t have to see a bunch of posts about cooking. But then you decide to start creating a bunch of random new groups like “Baking” and “Grilling” and “Things to Have with Some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti.” Now I’m forced to decide between abandoning you and having my screen cluttered with disturbing images I don’t want. Nobody wins.

Finally, and on a related note, it’s time we all start treating online conversations more like real-life conversations, with some civility, respect and, dare I say it, a bit less extremism. Even those of us who think we aren’t trolls have certain issues that drive us right under the bridge (and not in that good Red Hot Chili Peppers way.) Remember that generation of kids I mentioned way back at the beginning? The ones who have no idea how to behave in a civilized conversation either online or in the real world? Yeah, I wonder where they learned that.

It’s not anonymity that turns people into raging asshats online; it’s a lack of immediate accountability. When there’s no threat of someone taking you to task in some direct and meaningful fashion, whether by throwing a punch or just throwing a drink in your face, people are more prone to become belligerent, bellicose, and a lot of other B words too. I’m not advocating for violence, either de facto or de jure, as a means of controlling behavior online. Rather I’m advocating for self-control, something that we could use more of in every aspect of our lives, online or not.

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3 Comments on “We Need Some Social Media Etiquette”

  1. Bob Bonsall says:

    Update to this post: I was wandering around on TVtropes.org today, when I stumbled across this: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GIFT. Seems I am not the first person to notice that people tend to be more aggressive behind online anonymity (shocker, that.) Interesting to note there is scholarly research on the phenomenon.

  2. I live in the Philippines where people supposedly teach their kids the Filipino way of being polite and proper. I don’t know if that is still true today. Before the internet came to Philippines, we had to wait for around six months before the latest media fads come trickling through our black-and-white TV screens. But not even my mother, who doesn’t understand English, would watch them. Now some of my high school students no longer even speak Filipino, our national language. (I speak four languages–Filipino and two more Philippine languages and English.) Worse is that my students troll social networking sites and they think what their doing is normal for their age and in the internet. The problem is that they are assuming cultures that they think they understand but they don’t. My students are too busy trying to look and act cool in and outside of the internet that I think they would learn a thing or two from this post.

  3. […] is part of the internet, and that we have to accept it as part of doing business. I’ve even said as much myself. But maybe I’m getting a little quixotic in my old age, because I’ve decided it’s time we […]


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