Just what are they and what do they mean in the world of the internet? Indeed, what do they mean in our world at all?
Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge, describes etiquette as a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.
Wendell Willkie, the early twentieth century American politician and author, said, “The test of good manners is to be able to put up pleasantly with bad ones.”
I confess that I do this with great difficulty, but I do it and try not to brag about it.
Benjamin Banneker, born November 9, 1731 – died October 9, 1806, was a free African American scientist, surveyor, almanac author and farmer. On the subject of manners he is quoted as saying, “Evil communication corrupts good manners. I hope to live to hear that good communication corrects bad manners.”
Whoa! How prophetic was that? In this era of instant communication, a carelessly worded post on a forum can lead to flaming responses and accusations of trolling.
Flaming, also known as bashing, is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users, often involving the use of profanity. This occurs most commonly in eMail nowadays when the people involved have an emotional attachment to the subject and is compounded by the profound miscommunication caused by the lack of social cues available in face-to-face communication.
In the early days of the internet incidents of trolling were considered to be the same as flaming, but this has changed with modern usage by the news media to refer to the creation of any content that targets another person. The Internet dictionary NetLingo suggests there are four grades of trolling: playtime trolling, tactical trolling, strategic trolling, and domination trolling.
None of those activities are nice, as they are deliberate acts of bullying, and bullying is not polite.
The great American author, Flannery O’Connor, has been quoted as saying, “Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do. Bad manners are better than no manners at all, and because we are losing our customary manners, we are probably overly conscious of them; this seems to be a condition that produces writers.”
If she had lived to see the internet and the explosion of “invisible friends” with whom the average person is in daily communication she may not have said that. This world we live in is no longer a world where snail-mail and telephone conversations are the means by which we communicate. Today we live in a world where people are isolated and insulated from each other, and communicate via the internet using forums and social media. People of all walks of life come together in this vast melting pot of anonymity and they become ‘close friends’ or ‘dire enemies’ despite never having physically met.
Manners and proper etiquette are critical to maintaining one’s credibility in a world where you are represented by the picture you have selected as your ‘icon’ or ‘avatar’ and by what you write in the comments sections of public forums.
In this world, an icon or avatar is the graphical (pictorial) representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character. This photo or graphic is the image beside our user-name before every comment we post in any forum on the internet. We are careful of what we put up to represent us, because we want people to see us as who we think we are.
I believe common courtesy that a person would extend in a face-to-face conversation should extend into our online conversations.
And this brings me to the ongoing breech of common courtesies that brought this subject up in my mind.
If you, as an author, are invited through a forum to ‘like’ another author’s facebook page or website AND you choose to do so, it’s not appropriate for you to then post a comment on their page that you have done so and also post the links to your pages or books. The proper way to inform the author you have ‘liked’ their page is to send them a personal message saying you have done so and include those links in that message.
To post links to YOUR website or books on another author’s page is tantamount to pissing on their doorstep. You are saying to this author and his fans that you consider this author to be nothing more than another venue for your marketing strategy. You are marking their territory with your scent, claiming a piece of it for yourself. I am sure most of the offenders have no idea how rude such behavior is.
We denizens of the 22nd century live in a world of the ephemeral, but the ramifications of what we do and say in that world are monumental. The internet is forever, and deleting a comment won’t make it go away, because it has already shown up in the in-boxes of all the users on that forum. We communicate instantly and frequently with no filters between the brain and the keyboard. In this world of instant communication and myriad opportunities for damaging your own reputation it is critical to think before you do.
To that end, I offer up this list of suggested “manners” for authors in the world of the internet. I didn’t invent them; they are copied directly from the website “Common Sense Media” and made to apply to indie authors trying to make their way in the cruel world of the internet:
Rules for Online Etiquette
Context is everything. If you want to have a silly online name that conforms to the convention of a particular online community and only your friends there will see it, fine. But for more formal communication — like email addresses, posting comments, or anything to do with work or school — choose a respectable screen name (though not your real name) that they wouldn’t be embarrassed to utter out loud in front of, say, their grandmother. If it is author related, use your author-name.
Double-check before you hit “send.” Could something you wrote be misinterpreted? Is it so littered with slang that it requires a Ph.D. in Urban Dictionary to be understood? Were you upset when you wrote it? Check to see if it’s rude, mean, or sarcastic. If so, don’t send it.
Take the high road (but don’t boast about it). Chatting, texting, and status updates are all “in-the-moment” communication. But if there’s an escalating sense of rudeness, sign off. No good will come of firing off a nasty comment. Authors, who are touchy, hypersensitive creatures at best, will NEVER forget how you flamed them. You can always write out a response to get something off your chest … without sending it.
Grammar rules. Rumors of grammar’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. (I love that line!) But again, context is key. An IM to a friend can dangle as many participles as you want, but anything more formal — for example, a public online comment or a note to a colleague — should represent your best self. This applies to capital letters, too. By now, everyone knows that writing in all caps means that you’re shouting, but it bears repeating once your kid starts interacting online.
Keep a secret. In today’s world, photos, texts, and videos can be posted, copied, forwarded, downloaded, and Photoshopped in the blink of an eye. If you think something might embarrass someone, get them in trouble, compromise their privacy, or stir up drama of any kind, keep it to yourself — and maybe delete it from your timeline or the thread for good measure.
Don’t hide. For safety’s sake, you should use untraceable screen names, but using anonymity to cloak your actions can poison the atmosphere — and hurt people. If your kids want to be contributing members of the online world, encourage them to post productively, and walk the walk yourself.
Remember the Golden Rule. Don’t post something online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. If you do have something negative to say, discussing it in person is a better way to resolve your issues. Post nothing on someone else’s wall that you would not be glad to have on your own.
These suggestions translate directly to Do No Harm. Behave with dignity, and extend the common courtesies to others that you wish to have extended to you.
To that end, I leave you with this quote from the beloved tennis great, Arthur Ashe, “Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.”
I think that goes doubly for indie authors, because for us eking out a living in the world of the internet, appearance is everything.