Netiquette 101: People Read This Stuff

I swear sometimes I think people think the net, web, social media, whatever you want to call, is more like a personal bulletin board than the very public freely accessible vehicle that it is. It is as if they think that their post will only be read by people they know or like and forget that really anyone can see it. Here is a rule I think everyone should follow when sending an e-mail, posting a comment, or responding to something: would you share that to someone your coworkers?

Facebook is a prime example where people post something that they think will only be seen by their friends. But who are your friends? How far have you branched out to add people? And do you realize that posts can be shared? But a personal Facebook comment is one thing where at least there are some controls over viewership.

The bigger problem is more public forums. This can include anything such as a Facebook group or page, an online news column that allows comments, or other public forums. Even though you may be able to use a pseudonym and people not know it is you - is it that hard to be coherent, competent, and considerate? The reasons to be 'professional' in your correspondence are many fold.

  • If you are trying to make a point, it is hard to be convincing when you sound like a child. Swear words, name calling, and slang are likely to make me just skip over your post so I won't even read it to see if maybe you actually had something worthy to say.

  • People read this stuff. Especially the people the article is about, or if they have commented. If an article is about someone they are likely to know about it and read it themselves, and if you make disparaging comments they will read it - not just other people sympathetic to you. Please be cognizant that the subject may and likely will read your comments.

  • Children read this stuff. Whether you are on a public website, playing a game, or whatever, remember that more and more young people are using these tools, likely using them more than people your own age.
I had two experiences in the past weeks that were prime examples of people just being ignorant and/or uncaring.

The first was fairly mild, it just came after the example to follow just just highlighted these issues. I made a comment on a Facebook page (my local community's page versus an individual's profile), nothing important just an opinion about the community planning committee. In response to my comment someone said: "Kevin is an idiot....". The rest of the response is unimportant. Here it shows that again do you realize I get a notice when a comment is responded to and I will read it? It's as if they think other people will see but not me, or they do but don't care. Of course it didn't hurt my feelings, but here is what it did do for me and likely anyone else who read it - made it unimportant. I am supposed to respect your opinion when you communicate that way?

The second, and far more heinous, example really got me hot under the collar. JSOnline had an article on the owners of Pizza Man, a restaurant that had burned down last year, deciding not to reopen. One of the owners is very sick, they had a deal not work out for their new location, and after some time I am sure it is hard to regain the magic lost from the old place. They made the decision as a family to care for the ill family member. Here is what made me very upset. Out of around 100 comments probably 75% of them were comments like "ah who cares XXX's pizza is better anyway", claiming it was an interesting coincidence that the picked the day that Milwaukee's mandatory sick days went into effect, or hinting that the fire (suspected of arson in another business in the same building) may have been caused by the owners. Only about 25% honored the business as it had been when it was open and the hard decision, and wished the owners luck moving on. If I were the owners I would likely read the article, and the comments. I know they did as they commented on Facebook that they were hurt by the comments. Really? Was it really necessary for you to open your mouth there on the forum to spout that drivel? Say it to your friend, e-mail someone even, but think twice before posting publicly. Even better, just keep it to yourself and you may look better to everyone else than you really are.

To me so many of these scenarios could be negated by that one motherly rule: "If you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all". Sure it is hard to practice what you preach and I can slip up myself (say about certain public figures) but I am trying to just ignore the negative and focus on the positive, especially here, and hope that everyone else will too.

Whether your real name is attached to a comment or not, please consider the audience and who may read it, because people, lots of people, likely will.


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