Digital Etiquette or Common Sense?


The recent controversy over newly appointed HRD Minister, Smriti Irani’s educational qualifications was sparked by this tweet made by a member of the opposition party, Ajay Maken.

Much uproar ensued. It backlashed. Ajay Maken’s tweet received a lot of flak from the ruling party members and aam junta tweeters alike.

Smriti Irani in return, two days later, gave a calm and composed “Judge me by my work.” response.

And therein friends, lie the don’ts and the do’s of online etiquette, a.k.a common sense.

Ajay Maken’s tweet lacked respect, thoughtfulness and actually basic thought. Smriti Irani’s response was an appropriately delayed, composed and cool one.

This got me thinking about basic tenets of our digital lives. A lot of it is truly basic. But when you hear people talk aloud in a movie theater or a temple, you wonder if it really is that basic.

So, here I have for you some basic and some not-so-basic list of online manners:

1. Don’t bust yourself.

Of course, don’t get caught by your employer/future employer or partner/future partner. Watch what you post and where you post it. And I don’t mean this just for your photos from last night’s drunken party at a forum where your boss might be present. Or even a photo of you cosying up with your boyfriend/girlfriend which the family might not want to see.

What I mean is, know that cleavage in your LinkedIn profile picture* is going to say something about you. Or what you outrage about on twitter is going to be seen by whoever is looking you up. The internet is not a private place. Not even your private e-mail or chat messages are 100% private. So, you are indeed, what your online persona is.

2. Find a civil way to say it.

It is often said that one should say things online about someone only if they would say it to that person on their face. I’d say if you can say it on the face, do it so. Do not be mean or cruel online. Do not be a troll. This especially applies when a celebrity/well-known personality gets on your nerves.

I often see this with movies. People are outright nasty about them and their makers. I’m not saying you should sugar-coat stuff or stuff your opinions shut. But, criticism does sound harsher when written and being nasty is easy. However, there is always a nice way to put a point across, a respectful way.

A little more difficult but so much fun to do once you can, is being nice when people are not-so-nice to you. All a troll deserves is a smile and a thick skin. Works wonders to frustrate them.

3. Know formal from informal.

Sure those smileys are cute and those abbreviations are convenient. But, formal isn’t supposed to be cute. “LOL” brings too-much-familiarity for a person you are supposed to be formal with. I’d also, double check for any mischief played by my phone’s auto-correct for formal conversations.

I’m old school, so I cannot not have a line or two here for proper grammar and full spellings. ‘Great‘ doesn’t take that much longer to type than ‘gr8‘, ‘see you‘ is only four characters more than ‘c u‘. Don’t even get me started on ‘dat‘ for ‘that‘ and ‘der‘ for ‘there‘.

F9 if ur frnds dnt mnd, k. But at least save your formal relationships from this mind-numbing maze of vowel-less muddle.

And finally, no “ALL CAPS” —  formal or informal. Period.

(It is a good idea to check your company’s blogging policies. Make sure if you are representing anyone, and in either case, say so clearly in your write-up.)

4. Give credit/disclosure.

This is something that is disappearing way too quickly. Let alone finding out the origin of a particular quotable quote or witty tweet, people actively remove the reference to make it come across as original. Words, photos, audio, all. Please give credit where it’s due. I guess this appeal to conscience will go only so far, but at least I tried, “Wouldn’t you like to get credit for the joke you cracked? For the umpteen smiles you created?”

On the other hand, while this has limited application, when you are an interested party, it is nice to make full disclosure of your interest in the said opinion whether it’s in a blog post, a tweet or a quora answer.

5. Passing contact details?

Giving contact details of a person without that person’s knowledge is a big no-no. Of course, your relationship with the person will define the details, but better ask than get yourself or the other person in an awkward place.

6. Do not forward.

It took a great deal of self-control to not have number 1 through the last point here as “Do Not Forward”. Thankfully, e-mail forwards have come down to almost negligible. But, then there’s WhatsApp. The crap still exists, just that the delivery medium has shifted.

I won’t call myself a prude, but I find many a forward offensive. That aside, it’s on the phone! There is a non-zero chance of my kids/parents being around my phone. I do not want to explain why this aunty sent me this dirty image.

Whatsapp forwards should be avoided especially if they have:

  • sexual language/content
  • foul language
  • violent content
  • religious sentiments
  • political connotations
  • chain mail features

Note, I say this for forwards. For original thoughts, the other points in the post apply.

7. General E-mail watch-outs.

  •  Do not nag for a reply. Wait for a few days before sending a gentle reminder. After that, take the hint.
  • But, you try to reply as soon as you can. It is rude not to return a call. It is rude not to reply to an e-mail.
  • Be careful with “Reply all”. Many a embarrassment have been caused and could’ve been saved with a little care on this front.
  • Attach the Attachment.
  • Respect receiver’s bandwidth. Don’t make the e-mail too heavy. Send links to the files instead of the files themselves.
  • Make sure your computer is virus free.
  • If you suspect a person’s computer/account has been infected, inform them through other mediums.

8. General phone watch-outs.

How often have we seen people fidget with their phones even when they are in company. I am guilty as charged too. While, I’d like to say that the other person didn’t make themselves interesting enough for me to focus on them, the truth is that I need to be a little more mindful. We all need to:

  •  Turn the phone off /silent when it is inappropriate for it to ring. Like in a yoga class or at a funeral.
  • Above applies to a movie too! The harsh light from a phone’s screen impairs your neighbour’s experience on the screen.
  • At other times, turn the volume down — of the ring tone and of our voice too. We tend to speak louder when on the phone. Microphones are fairly sensitive to capture spoken voice, and most smartphones even have background noise cancellation.
  • No one wants to be a third party to a conversation. Private conversations need to be in private.
  • Take permission before putting someone on speaker-phone.
  • All you smartwatch early adopters, be mindful that when you keep looking at your wrist every time a notification comes in, the person in front of you can find it extremely rude. Inform him/her appropriately.

And of course,

  • Don’t text and drive.
  • Don’t talk on phone and drive.

9. General Social Media watch-outs.

Other than some of the specifics mentioned above, a few things apply specifically to social media of the FB/Instagram nature.

  • It is important to take permission before putting up someone else’s picture that you might have clicked. You might be fine with it, but it might make them awkward.
  • Not everyone is interested in Candy Crush and Farmville. Stop those invitations already!
  • Keep self-promotion in check, for it looks pushy and vain. Though it can be argued that one of the basic purposes of Facebook/Twitter is promoting the other things you do. There has to be a balance.
  • Food and baby pictures really need to be filtered. Everyone has them. At the most, one is as good as many. And one a day is certainly not necessary.

10. Take a break.

Once in a while, go on a digital detox. You will come back rejuvenated. See how this company takes a break from e-mail every Friday.

I think we’ve covered it all; and now we leave you with some other more real etiquette issues highlighted in this viral video (explicit language, you have been warned)

*Thank you, Makarand for the hat tip.

Meeta Kabra

Meetu is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA but she’d rather not keep books or run a business. She deployed her analytical skills to reviewing movies instead and, along the way, rediscovered her sense of humor. By doing this she gets to exploit both her love for movies and writing. She took it upon herself to write reviews, "Without Giving the Movie Away" @ Wogma. She also writes short stories and poems at Minus i.

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