What is Netiquette? A Guide to Online Ethics and Etiquette

Netiquette is a combination of the words network and etiquette and is defined as a set of rules for acceptable online behavior. Similarly, online ethics focuses on the acceptable use of online resources in an online social environment.

Both phrases are frequently interchanged and are often combined with the concept of a ’netizen’ which itself is a contraction of the words internet and citizen and refers to both a person who uses the internet to participate in society, and an individual who has accepted the responsibility of using the internet in productive and socially responsible ways.

Underlying this overall concept of socially responsible internet use are a few core pillars, though the details underneath each pillar are still subject to debate.

At a high level using netiquette, applying online ethics, or being a good netizen means:

  • Recognizing that the internet is not some new world in which anything goes, but rather a new dimension or extension of our existing society.
  • Applying the same standards and values online as we are accustomed to applying in the rest of our lives. In simple terms, this means that the values society has in place against such things as hate speech and bigotry, copyright violations and other forms of theft, child exploitation, and child pornography, remain intact. As do the values around courtesy, kindness, openness, and treating others with the same respect we wish to receive.
  • Accepting that the laws which are currently in place to protect the rights and dignity of citizens apply online and that where needed, laws are updated to reflect these rights in the extended environment. Theft online is still theft, stalking, bullying, harassing, tormenting online is still abusive, and so on.
  • Acknowledging that cultural differences remain, even when national boundaries no longer apply. This requires finding a way to accept that the social values and norms of some netizens will not be the social values and norms of all netizens.
  • For companies, being a good netizen, applying online ethics, or using netiquette also includes:
    1. Respecting the rights to privacy assumed and possessed by citizens in their offline interactions.
    2. Maintaining transparency in their policies and actions so that consumers can easily and quickly understand how that company is using their information, protecting them from harm, and giving users a clear means of ownership and self-determination as to what is, and isn’t shared about them.

Most internet users automatically apply the same responsible respectful behavior online as they do in every other environment and by nature apply netiquette an online ethics, and are good netizens. The minority that fails to apply societal values in some or any environment - including the internet - are quickly identified as exceptions to be dealt with on a social, or criminal level.

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