Netiquette, or net etiquette, is a set of ten rules written by Virginia Shea in 1995, that should be kept in mind while interacting with other people on the Internet. Despite the age of this text, it is still extremely relevant today, even with the massive evolution in the use of Internet we’ve seen in the past decades.

All of the ten commandments are relevant, but to me they are mostly summed up in the first three rules:

  • Remember the human,
  • Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life,
  • Know where you are in cyberspace.
    In this post, we will be focusing on the third one.

We can see a kind of logical progression between these first three rules, and I see the third one as an important consequence of the previous one. Wherever we go in real life, we gather information (consciously or not) about the place we’re in, the people around us, how they act, what are the customs, and we adapt our behaviour accordingly. So in a sense, behaving the same way in the cyberspace and in real life implies to Know where we are in the cyberspace, including what are people’s habits, what is commonly acknowledged and we should be aware of, what topics are sensitive, what kind of language register is used, and so on.

Just like in real life, it takes some time to get used to a new place, be it a website, a forum, a chatroom…, especially if the said place has very different cultural standards compared to what we’re used to. As the web is global and open to everyone, it widens this cultural diversity, making the adaptation even more important. At the same time, unlike in real life, we don’t really “feel” when we are moving from one part of the world to another, so people can sometimes forget about the differences between them, especially since we don’t directly see each other.
So despite the information being possibly harder to gather than in real life, it’s important to get an idea of the habits and customs of people in the various communication channels we use.

Starting from here, we can start deducing some other of the other common (or less common) rules, for example “Read before writing”. This can be interpreted as the usual “read the FAQ and search is your question hasn’t already been answered”, but also as reading to get an idea of the way people usually communicate in the channel. As the original Netiquette states:

Lurk before you leap

Knowing “where we are” is important to avoid annoying or even hurting other people, contributing to other rules like respecting others, Making yourself look good or Keeping the flame wars under control (and avoiding them in the first place).

At the end of the day, most of these commandments are inter-related and just require a bit of common sense (not everyone has it, but fortunately most people do). The main thing to remember is that the Internet is global and is bringing together a lot of very different people, and like any other place, we have to act accordingly.


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