by guest blogger Renee Calvert
The Internet is an amazing thing – even if, at times, it can drive me bananas.
This vast cyber landscape offers so many things, from humorous videos of cats and people doing idiotic stunts, to a wealth of information just a few clicks away. You can buy groceries, pay your bills, talk to old friends you haven’t seen since high school, and read a book. You can play video games, argue with the other fans of your favorite movie over whether or not the mind-boggling plot twist was hack writing or not, learn new things by spending hours clicking random links on Wikipedia, and make business connections with people halfway around the world.
Frankly, the Internet is pretty great.
But nothing is perfect. Jean Paul Sartre may have been onto something when he famously wrote, “Hell is other people.” (Even if he did have persistent hallucinations of being pursued by a giant lobster. But I digress.)
See, the problem is that etiquette hasn’t quite caught up to the universal use of the Internet. While it was true a few years ago that, outside of email and a handful of sites like Google, the Internet was an untamed frontier of lewd flash videos and fan fiction, that frontier has recently been tamed. Now that your mom, boss, grandma, dad, kids, little cousins and, well, everyone spends time on their Facebook pages, blogs, websites, and YouTube accounts, it is, perhaps, time to re-evaluate how we behave online.
Because the truth of the Internet is this – you are not as anonymous as you think you are.
Many people believe (and I, too, am guilty of this) that, because there is a screen and several thousand miles separating us from the people we’re communicating with, we can say or do whatever we want online. And again, while one’s chances of being caught a few years ago may have been much lower, the notion persists that because we’re online, we’re protected from the social retribution we’d receive if we behaved impolitely IRL (in real life).
Because of this notion, there are corners (large and insidious corners) of the Internet which are downright foul. Misogyny, racism, name-calling, cyber-bullying, and trolling all persist in greater numbers than they do in the real world because there really haven’t been any rules for Internet etiquette. But there is certainly need for them.
I’m no expert, and I know I can’t change what’s in cyberspace (and would be creatively insulted in ways I wasn’t even aware I could be if I attempted to). However, since you’re still with me here, I would like to propose some things for us all to consider the next time we interact with someone online:
1) There is a Person on the Other Side
Unless you’re chatting with xo!sexy11buyfakegucci10121hottie (in which case… the best I can say is “good luck with that…”) chances are good that the person you’re talking to is an actual person. Y’know, with feelings and emotions and a family and stuff. Bearing that in mind, it is probably a good idea to treat that person the way you might treat them in real life (and if you WOULD call someone a rude name to their face in real life, well then, let us know that before we start interacting, please). But it’s as simple as following the rules everyone learns in Kindergarten – share your toys, treat people how you want to be treated, and, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it. Be polite. Just because there’s a screen separating you doesn’t make the other person and their feelings any less real.
2) Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
OMG, someone just spoiled the latest episode of “The Walking Dead” (or Game of Thrones, or The X-Factor, or Mad Men, or Once Upon a Time, or Doctor Who, or whatever your cup of TV tea is). What a jerk. But as you feel your bile rising and your anger over learning that so-and-so died and such-and-such contestant was eliminated and x-thing HAPPENED without you actually watching it and being surprised by the show, count to ten, and ask yourself this question.
Is it really worth getting into a fight with a stranger over? Really? Really really?
The answer is, probably, no, so take a deep breath and walk away. And if you truly need to vent about it somewhere, go write an angry post on Tumblr or something. Because 90% of Internet fights are over trivial things that do not matter.
As with rule 1, think of your Internet actions as being like your real life actions, with similar consequences and outcomes. If you clocked a dude in the face because he happens to prefer Coke to Pepsi, you would be shunned by society and maybe even arrested. Likewise, fighting over trivial things online is silly, not worth your time, and potentially damaging to your reputation.
There are many things worth fighting for… but the Internet is not the place to do it.
3) Everything You Say Can and WILL be Used Against You
There’s a story that’s been floating around for some time. A man comes home from work and writes a tirade on Facebook about his boss, and how much he hates going to work. Unfortunately, he has forgotten that he friended his boss a while back. The boss, of course, comments on the post, and declares that since the man hates work so much, he needn’t come in the next day, or ever again. The man protests earnestly, but the damage has already been done.
In a world of social media, blogs and YouTube, it’s impossible to remain anonymous. Google tracks your search history. Facebook mines your data for ad revenue. Even something as innocuous as Farmville keeps track of who you’re playing games with and for how long. By putting yourself online you have made yourself completely conspicuous, and if you do something stupid, people will find out. (And if you do something epically stupid, someone will post it on Failblog.com and, via the Internet, people all over the world will have a laugh at your expense.)
We had a saying in my house, growing up - “If you wouldn’t want it displayed on the largest billboard along the freeway, don’t say it or do it.” And it’s a great saying – who wants their dirty laundry aired so publicly? But what many people seem to forget is that the Internet IS that public and even more so! Nevertheless, too many spew whatever thought is on their mind with little consideration for who may see it.
Instead, before you post anything online, pause, re-read what you’re about to send, and carefully consider if it’s something you want your boss, parents, children, religious leaders, teachers, etc. to see. If it’s not something you would say or do with them physically present, delete what you’re about to say and go do something productive.
4) A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place
One of the best things about the Internet is you can find people who like the same things you do just about anywhere. Even the random, weird, obscure things. My dad, for instance, likes building models of sci-fi spaceships and robots and such. It’s a very niche interest, but through the Internet he’s made some real-life friends and attends a monthly club for this very specific interest.
However, if Dad were to go onto LinkedIn and start chatting up a group called Sales Managers United about his latest Lost in Space build, that wouldn’t go over very well.
Likewise, videos of cats don’t need comments about the presidential election, and pensive posts about one’s sick child don’t need Bejeweled Blitz solicitations.
There is a time and place for everything – and you can find that time and place on the Internet. But barging in on an irrelevant topic to talk about whatever whim you may happen to have is childish and immature – akin to barging into a business meeting and whining loudly about your spouse.
Patience and good manners speak volumes to your quality of character, and if you want to share an off-color joke or biting political commentary with someone, seek out the place to do those things appropriately, and respect the subject at hand on existing posts and comment threads.
5) It’s Not All About You.
These days, nearly everyone has a blog or webpage or YouTube account, and it seems they can do and say whatever they like on these pages. It’s true, to a degree (remembering all the while that if you’re acting like a fool, someone may object). You can do whatever you want in your own corner of the Internet. You want to make a page advertising your totally awesome shoe collection? Cool. Go for it. I applaud you.
Just don’t start gabbing on about your amazing shoe collection on MY shoe collection website.
When I meet someone who constantly has to one-up me in real life, I can’t stand to be around them for more than a few minutes before I start looking for an excuse to leave. And it isn’t just one-upmanship, either. Talking over people, cutting in line, butting into conversations, venting about one’s own problems after someone has confided a woe...
No one likes the selfish attention hog. And the same is true online. If you leave comments on someone else’s page about your own niche, when, in fact, they are your competition, that’s just rude. It’s their site, their page, and their area of expertise. If you happen to share that expertise, it’s not okay to go to someone else’s domain and try to steal their traffic.
As I stated in Rule #4, it’s all about time and place. For example, if you’re on a LinkedIn group and discussing tricks and tips for dealing with difficult bosses, it’s totally fine to post links to your site and promote yourself (if the group rules allow, that is), even if someone else has posted too.
There are myriad ways to promote yourself online. Targeting a competitor’s traffic without their permission is not one of them.
These rules are only a start, but there’s a common theme: follow the basic etiquette we enact every day in face-to-face, real life interaction. It’s not difficult to do - this is something you do all the time when conversing with people who can actually see you. The Internet should not be a mask you put on to behave like a petulant, attention-seeking child, but a platform for adults to connect globally in deeper, more impactful ways than has ever been possible before.
Because the Internet is pretty cool. Let’s not screw it up.
Renee Calvert is the Special Projects Coordinator at People First Productivity Solutions. She is currently attending the Academy of Art University to earn her MFA in 2D Animation and does most of the visual design for PFPS. As a leader, it’s imperative to understand why and how to show ever person that you care about them. Learn more about how you can CONNECT2Lead. And be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for weekly tips and techniques on leading with a people first approach.