Sometimes folks just don’t get it. But their ignorance isn’t necessarily their fault, the world is a big place and there’s a learning curve. Sometimes you just need someone to lay down the rules for you so you know what to do and what not to do. In our hyper-digital age, there’s a whole new world available to us with a whole new set of rules: the Internet.
In many ways, the Internet is designed not to have rules, but out of courtesy to others and in order to elevate the Internet’s quality of information, it’s best to have a few rules or etiquette guidelines in place.
CNN did a pretty good job listing the rules and truths of the internet, but I think it’s best to shorten it—this is the Internet, after all, and who has the time to read a list of twelve things? For the sake of simplicity, I present the four golden rules of the internet.
1. Don’t share everything
This first rule is designed to help you understand that whatever you post on the internet will become public and therefore has potential to be either A) made fun of B) misconstrued or C) both. This means that someone might find my personal blog and discover that I write awful poetry online (it’s true, I do). One day some spiteful little cur will find it and exploit it (especially now that I’ve drawn attention to it). Isn’t the Internet great?
There’s a valuable lesson: you need to be very careful about what you post. There are far too many people running around unencumbered on the Internet. They all want to make fun of every slip-up they can because, sadly, failure is hilarious. You can fight against this by not sharing every silly thing you think up. Most people share way too much, but we can keep the Internet classy by carefully selecting what to share. The Internet is full of treasure, so as you reconnoiter the web, let others know where to find some of the good stuff— sharing only awesome things means we all get some of that Internet gold.
This rule also means that you’ve got a responsibility to share truth and quality information and not to spread lies. Careless sharing means we all get half-truths. During the media storm following the Boston bombings, a lot of misguided conspiracies emerged, and one actually went viral. Many people, even some on my Facebook friends list, began posting an article explaining that the U.S. had accidentally bombed a civilian wedding in Afghanistan. People who posted it alluded to the fact that the Boston bombing was an inside job intended to bring media attention away from a terrible military accident. Evidently, nobody that posted the article read it very closely—it was dated 2002. Other offenders include CNN, whose overzealous coverage led to lots of misinformation—even President Obama quipped about their misguided efforts at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner (yes, I see the irony that I cited CNN at the beginning of this article then made fun of them for publishing misinformation).
Viral sharing of inaccurate information really amplifies our next point.
2. Nothing on the Internet is true until you verify for yourself.
Those that grew up with the Internet were constantly told not to trust everything you read online. In fact, don’t even trust this article (I did cite CNN, after all). Why are you still reading? I said don’t!
Anyway, the Internet is a big wide place full of liars and a lot of it is the result of people not following the first rule. Facebook friends of mine (people I refuse to socialize with in person) spread all sorts of lies online. It’s common for them to post things that aren’t true without actually making an effort to verify.
That said, the Internet isn’t all lies. There are plenty of facts if you know how to find them. While I was in school, Wikipedia was not a valid source in the eyes of professors but nowadays, Wikipedia has ramped up its quality and even locked up well-cited articles written by experts to keep people from making poor and inaccurate edits and additions. While a lot of the academic work on Wikipedia is quite reputable, it’s still wise to look at the citations and attribute the original source (which I try to do much of the time, The History of Data Storage and Backup notwithstanding). Take some time and actually think about what you see online. Does it seem valid? What’s the original source, your Uncle Johnny, or a Harvard professor?
There’s truth and facts online, just don’t assume you’re reading them all the time—everything can be disputed. The best way to deal with misinformation is to assume everything you see is false until you can verify for yourself. This is especially crucial when it comes to misinformed Facebook posts from Grandma that claim researchers have unequivocally proven that President Obama is the spawn of evil (please keep my advice in mind if you click that link). The truth shall set you free.
3. Respect Gets Respect
I took that phrase from a Canyons Ski Resort map I have at my desk, but the advice works in any situation, digital or physical. The Internet allows for an unprecedented level of anonymity, which means people are more inclined to be rude. The wisest thing to do is behave as though you’re talking to someone in person. You probably wouldn’t be a jerk to somebody you just met in real life so don’t be rude to people you just met online. Others might not always treat you well, but you can be a bigger person and treat others respectfully. Those that disrespect you can be ignored. Online muscle flexing leads to nowhere. The old maxim applies: treat others the way you would want to be treated (that means you are obligated to share plenty of cat videos or dog videos, if you prefer).
Also, Facebook and other social media platforms shouldn’t act as your soapbox. Online rants aren’t favorable and generally make people look arrogant, annoying, or simply misled. Stuff your opinions in the ballot box, not down throats. Of course, when I go on a rant (especially a rant about online rants), it’s not a rant. It’s just advice. So there.
4. Use Proper Grammar. No Acceptions.
The world of the Internet moves so fast that things like grammar end up dust-frosted on the book shelf. For the sake of brevity and speed (or perhaps because of carelessness), things like Facebook posts, blog articles, and forum comments contain deplorable sentence structure, misplaced commas, improper word choice, and so on. Some will argue that as long as a reader understands what the sentence means, grammar doesn’t matter much (we call these people “dimwits”). That’s not true. Regardless of whether readers understand, you don’t sound very bright when you say, “OMG my BF is gonna go 2 da partay tomorrow! Im soooo excited 2C him!” Take five extra seconds and do things properly, especially if you’re trying to make a point (people probably don’t care that you’re excited to see your boyfriend either), and especially in a business situation. Bad grammar blows the credibility of anything intelligent you have to say (assuming you have anything intelligent to say) and degrades the language itself. Treat language with care. It’s the greatest invention in human history.
Note: There are exceptions to this rule. Small things happen, you miss a comma or two or forget how to spell something—we all do it. You can overlook the little mistakes others make. Consistent and glaring grammar gaffes are another story—they make your look like a bumbling ninny. Also, when using Twitter, you’ve got limited space so it’s understandable that the word “you” might become “u,” and other words might be shortened. Of course, U should still do UR best 2 create coherent prose w/ proper punctuation. It’s really not that tough and it’s easier to read.
I know, I know. I said, “Four golden rules.” I’m not a liar—the fifth rule isn’t made of gold, it’s made of fur. The last rule is cats. So be sure to spend time with Internet cats. Lots of time.