How To Be A Nice Person Online

Club Choices by Flickr user Daquella manera
"Club Choices" by Flickr user Daquella manera

Humans are social beasts. They are driven to form groups. Every group has its own set of rules — its etiquette.

Social media is no exception. A stable set of norms is emerging that governs online behavior. Some of it is adopted from the etiquette of early online environments — like DON’T USE ALL CAPS is a long-standing norm from email.

Other norms are new and may or may not be stable. I wanted to try to write a few of the emerging norms down, especially ones that govern how people with lots of connections behave toward those with fewer connections.

Think of it as a “how to be nice” list. You’ll notice that a lot of it is just common sense from the “real” world transferred into the social media space.

  • Don’t just use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote your own stuff. Promote others’ work!
  • Share credit generously. If you find a link through someone else and share it, try to give credit to as many people in the chain. If you have to cut off someone in the chain (for space reasons, for example), make sure you keep the original.
  • If someone shares a post by you (by “retweeting” a link, sharing a FaceBook link, or sharing one of your original blog posts) it’s nice to thank them publicly. So, for instance, in Twitter if I share a link and then you say “RT @bradrourke Fighting panda video” the correct response from ME is “@you Thanks for the RT!”. That way others know that I noticed your original sharing of my link.
  • Make sure it’s clear who’s saying what. If you comment on a link, make sure it doesn’t look like part of the original. Like this: “(Me: blah blah blah.)”
  • In FaceBook, if you are sharing something that another FaceBook friend originally brought to your attention, mention that person. It’s nice!
  • In your blog, if you use a photo from the Web, make sure you have permission to do so! If it’s a Creative Commons photo (like the one on this post) that requires attribution, make sure you give it fully and include a link to the original.
  • If you are commenting in a blog, avoid criticizing people by name so the thread does not devolve into a flame war. When people feel attacked they fight back.
  • Don’t be afraid to use goofy punctuation, as it softens the harshness of typed communication and makes you seem more human.

I am sure there are more good tips, these are just a few. Add to them in the comments!

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

2 thoughts on “How To Be A Nice Person Online”

  1. Great reminders. As Tara Hunt says in The Whuffie Factor (borrowed from Cory Doctorow) on how to be successful in social media: “be nice; be networked; be notable” And oh yes, be authentic!
    Thanks Brad.

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