These days, we all spend a lot of our lives online. We work online, socialize online, shop online and do basically every other thing imaginable on the internet. While the World Wide Web may feel more like the wild, wild west, it’s actually real life, and thus, the basic rules of etiquette still apply in virtual settings. There are also special rules involving email etiquette, workplace etiquette and social media etiquette that mean you could be acting rudely online without even realizing it.
It’s natural to want to share the big things — both good and bad — in your life online; that’s the whole point of social media, after all. But there’s a difference between sharing a throwback photo of your wedding day on your anniversary or letting people know that your husband has the flu and sharing nitty, gritty details of your everyday life. Gushing about every little thing your significant other does for you or posting a photo of a gnarly injury is a surefire way to annoy and potentially disturb your acquaintances. Some things are best kept private or shared with a more limited audience of close friends and family.
Typically, bringing up touchy topics like politics is a major breach of etiquette, but discussing and debating politics online is a part of modern conversation and democracy. However, proceed with caution. No matter your political leanings, about half of your social network is going to be offended by or disagree with anything you post. Think about the purpose of your political post. Is it to share news and inform others or is it just to stir the pot? Vet your sources and make sure they’re not one-sided or spreading misinformation. And if you do engage in political debates online, be sure to inform yourself, avoid personally insulting others and know when to simply agree to disagree.
There’s a difference between being proud of your and your loved one’s accomplishments and bragging, so tread with caution when sharing news of a promotion, your child’s good grades or any other personal or familial success. Say something like “I’m so proud of how well Noah is doing in school” instead of “Noah has gotten straight As for the fourth semester in a row.” While your kid may be thriving academically, there are likely kids in your social network who are struggling, and the news of others’ excessive success may be hurtful. Sharing news this way is just one of the ways you may not realize you’re being rude.
We all need to let off some steam every now and then; it’s one of those “bad” habits that’s actually good for you. Work, current events and the people around us can be irritating, but constantly complaining and ranting on social media is a guaranteed way to annoy the people around you. If you feel the need to rant or complain, call a trusted friend or family member to vent for five minutes or so (but keep your time ranting limited). You can also write all your feelings down in a letter to get it out of your system without affecting other people.
Yes, you should respond to an invitation as soon as possible, and of course that extends to e-vites as well, whether they be via social media or email. While it may be tempting to respond positively to an invitation immediately, only do so if you actually plan on attending. An online invite can feel less binding, but hosts depend on honest responses. Everything about throwing a party, from the amount of food and drinks needed to the space and number of chairs needed, depends on numbers.
Online dating apps and websites like Bumble, Tinder, Match and eHarmony can feel more like games and less like a way to make a connection. But those photos and short bios are attached to real, living and breathing people, and those folks need to be treated as such. It can be hard to know how to navigate dating apps, but endlessly scrolling through apps and making matches with no intention of actually talking to the other person is one of the worst dating etiquette mistakes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you.
Ghosting is the act of ending a relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing all communication. It is also a particularly painful way of ending a relationship, leaving the ghosted person confused and shocked. Even if you’ve just been texting with someone you met on a dating site or app and decide they aren’t the one for you, be direct with them when you cut them off.
When chatting online, whether it’s via an instant messenger or on a message board, it can be easy to get carried away, especially when it comes to gossip. Participating in gossip is rude no matter what form it takes. In addition to the classic forms of gossiping, if you send a ridiculous tweet an acquaintance posted to a friend, that’s gossiping and disrespectful to that acquaintance. While it may feel harmless, talking about others behind their backs hurts feelings and can damage your own reputation. That’s not all, though, there are plenty of reasons why you should never gossip.
Insults and teasing may not feel like bullying if they’re done online, but cyberbullying is a real problem. In 2017, 15% of 12-18-year olds reported being bullied online, according to stopbullying.gov. Cyberbullying includes, but is not limited to, sending, posting or sharing harmful or mean content about someone else and sharing personal, private information about someone else to their detriment. Not only is cyberbullying rude and unbecoming, it can also wade into illegal territory.
Sure, it’s your Twitter/Instagram/Facebook account, and you can technically post whatever you want. But your online presence is a stranger’s first impression of you. If you’re on the hunt for a job, significant other or new circle of friends, you can be sure that your accounts will be found by all of the above. Be conscious and aware of what you are saying on the internet, and if you’ve got strong feelings about something, choose an eloquent way to express yourself. If you aren’t sure how to act on social media, you probably need the answers to more etiquette questions, too.
Like RSVPs, it’s easy to just write the first draft of an email or text and click send without second thought. But you wouldn’t submit an essay or mail a letter without reading it through, would you? Before you respond to an email, make sure you have read the initial communication thoroughly and reread your own response as well. If the email you’re sending is about a sensitive subject, give yourself some time to cool down and think before typing out a message.
We’ve all read an email or iMessage and forgotten to respond. But it’s polite to respond to any correspondance (no matter the form) within 24 hours. Leaving an instant message, text or email as “Marked as Read” with no response is particularly rude. If your response requires more time than anticipated or if you’re busy but want to acknowledge that you’ve received a message, let the other person you’re talking to know that you will respond as soon as you can.
We all know how much easier it is to text or email rather than call or talk to someone in person, especially when the topic of conversation is important, sincere or sensitive. While confrontation and being vulnerable can be difficult, if you’re discussing a serious subject or even just having a lengthy conversation, it’s much more proper (and efficient) to just pick up the phone or meet up at a local cafe or bar. Making sure that you talk in person is a little known rule of etiquette you may be breaking regularly.
It’s fine to have casual conversation online, but you want to make sure that in professional settings you’re using proper grammar and clean language. Read your emails twice not just for content but for grammar and punctuation as well.
Face-to-face conversations and phone calls come with the advantage of being able to hear someone’s tone. Facial expressions, gestures and inflections can make or break a conversation. That context oftentimes gets lost over electronic communication. Don’t be afraid to be overly friendly and expressive over text and email so as not to appear terse or upset. While you don’t want to overdo it, the usage of emojis can also help clarify the mood you’re trying to express online.
The days of forwarding along chain emails and spammy messages are mostly behind us, but these sort of spam messages now live on in other forms. Be wary of tagging friends and family members in memes, low-quality content and posts that promise to give away free trips or luxury items on social media — that’s just modern day spam.
You may think using capital letters is a way to emphasize a word or phrase, but people often read capital letters online as yelling. And yelling is not a particularly polite mode of conversation.
Tagging others in unflattering photos online or posting images of strangers online is inconsiderate of others’ privacy. Think before you post that photo of your brother-in-law mid-sneeze to Facebook. Would you want that image of yourself everywhere online?
Some news is so exciting that you want to shout it from the rooftops — but it may not be your news to share. Your child’s engagement, the arrival of a niece or nephew or even your spouse’s big promotion isn’t OK to share on social media without asking that person’s permission first. Perhaps they want to break the news to the world in their own way. If your loved one has already posted their wedding photos or birth announcement, then it’s fine to share that information with your own circle, but don’t be the one to break the news first.
When you’re at a social engagement, be it happy hour at the bar with coworkers, a date or a family birthday party, it’s easy to sort of tune out your surroundings and scroll endlessly through Twitter or Reddit or to post your entire evening on Snapchat or Instagram. But there is a time and a place for being online, and it’s not when you’re in the presence of other people. Put your phone down or in your purse and spend time with the people you’re around. Being glued to your phone and the internet is just one of the worst etiquette mistakes you can make.
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