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Digital Fluency : Social Media Etiquette

“Effectively employing and understanding digital tools to express ideas in appropriate contexts."

What Is Netiquette?

Netiquette is defined as:

"a set of unofficial rules for good behavior and politeness that have been developed by users of Usenet, the Internet, email, chatrooms, and other modes of online communication."

Netiquette is the practice of exercising polite and considerate behaviour in online contexts, such as Internet discussion boards and personal email.

Follow these links to learn more:

An online hyperlinked version of Virginia Shea's book covering the basics of netiquette and its application in different contexts, such as business and school

Bow Valley College Library. (2013, July 30). Digital literacy, netiquette and internet safety. Retrieved from

"The Core Rules of Netiquette" by Virgina Shea

The following 10 rules and reminders for online communication and behaviour have been summarized from Virginia Shea's book, Netiquette.

Shea, V. (2011). The Core Rules of Netiquette. Retrieved from


Rule 1: Remember the human

Remember that behind every screen is a human being with independent thoughts and feelings. It is easy to misunderstand or be rude to others when you are not interacting with them in person. Before clicking send or post, ask yourself: Would you say it to the person's face?

Rule 2: Adhere to the same standards of behavior that you follow in "real life"

This rule is a reminder that the ethical standards and laws that govern our society extend to cyberspace as well. This includes harassment and bullying, copyright regulations, and privacy.

Rule 3: Know where you are in cyberspace

Different environments require different behavior. The way we interact with our friends, for example, may not be acceptable in a school or work situation. This principle extends to online environments as well. Comments that are acceptable on Facebook, for instance, may be considered inappropriate on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn.

Rule 4: Respect other people's time and bandwidth

In this rule, "bandwidth" is synonymous with "time." When you send and email or post on a discussion board, keep your comments brief and relevant to the environment or situation.

Rule 5: Make yourself look good online

There are many positive aspects about the Internet, including the ability to remain anonymous. This rule is a reminder not to allow this aspect of the Internet influence how you communicate. Pay attention to your grammar, spelling and word choices as well as the overall content and truthfulness of your writing, as this is what others are using to judge you.

Rule 6: Share expert knowledge

The Internet is a great platform for sharing good information. However, it can also be used to spread misinformation and distortions. If you hold a lot of knowledge about a certain topic or subject, don't be afraid to share it online in a manner that is helpful and accurate.

Rule 7: Help keep flame wars under control

"Flaming" refers to verbal disagreements that occur between users in contexts such as message boards. They are often a result of strongly held opinions and emotions. As in rule 4, do not monopolize online discussion with long or offensive commentary.

Rule 8: Respect other people's privacy

The Internet is an open forum. Remember not to share information about others that could get them -- or yourself -- into trouble, both personally and professionally.

Rule 9: Don't abuse your power

This rule is intended for those who carry more power on the Internet as experts, designers, system administrators or even hackers. Power should always be used responsibly and not to harm or take advantage of those who are less powerful or knowledgeable.

Rule 10: Be forgiving of other people's mistakes

Give other users the benefit of the doubt and consider that they may come from a different background or have less experience on the Internet. Do not be rude when you encounter someone's mistake -- always respond courteously and with respect.

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Email Do's and Don'ts

Email is an important form of communication that is used in multiple contexts, from professional to personal. Below are tips on how to apply proper email etiquette.

Stack, L. (2014). 12 tips for better email etiquette. Retrieved from

Be informal, not sloppy. Your colleagues may use commonly accepted abbreviations in e-mail, but when communicating with external customers, everyone should follow standard writing protocol. Your e-mail message reflects you and your company, so traditional spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules apply.

Keep messages brief and to the point. Just because your writing is grammatically correct does not mean that it has to be long. Nothing is more frustrating than wading through an e-mail message that is twice as long as necessary. Concentrate on one subject per message whenever possible.

Use sentence case. USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS LOOKS AS IF YOU'RE SHOUTING. Using all lowercase letters looks lazy. For emphasis, use asterisks or bold formatting to emphasize important words. Do not, however, use a lot of colors or graphics embedded in your message, because not everyone uses an e-mail program that can display them.

Use the blind copy and courtesy copy appropriately. Don't use BCC to keep others from seeing who you copied; it shows confidence when you directly CC anyone receiving a copy. Do use BCC, however, when sending to a large distribution list, so recipients won't have to see a huge list of names. Be cautious with your use of CC; overuse simply clutters inboxes. Copy only people who are directly involved.

Don't use e-mail as an excuse to avoid personal contact. Don't forget the value of face-to-face or even voice-to-voice communication. E-mail communication isn't appropriate when sending confusing or emotional messages. Think of the times you've heard someone in the office indignantly say, "Well, I sent you e-mail." If you have a problem with someone, speak with that person directly. Don't use e-mail to avoid an uncomfortable situation or to cover up a mistake.

Remember that e-mail isn't private. I've seen people fired for using e-mail inappropriately. E-mail is considered company property and can be retrieved, examined, and used in a court of law. Unless you are using an encryption device (hardware or software), you should assume that e-mail over the Internet is not secure. Never put in an e-mail message anything that you wouldn't put on a postcard. Remember that e-mail can be forwarded, so unintended audiences may see what you've written. You might also inadvertently send something to the wrong party, so always keep the content professional to avoid embarrassment.

Be sparing with group e-mail. Send group e-mail only when it's useful to every recipient. Use the "reply all" button only when compiling results requiring collective input and only if you have something to add. Recipients get quite annoyed to open an e-mail that says only "Me too!"

Use the subject field to indicate content and purpose. Don't just say, "Hi!" or "From Laura." Agree on acronyms to use that quickly identify actions. For example, your team could use <AR> to mean "Action Required" or <MSR> for the Monthly Status Report. It's also a good practice to include the word "Long" in the subject field, if necessary, so that the recipient knows that the message will take time to read.

Don't send chain letters, virus warnings, or junk mail. Always check a reputable antivirus Web site or your IT department before sending out an alarm. If a constant stream of jokes from a friend annoys you, be honest and ask to be removed from the list. Direct personal e-mail to your home e-mail account.

Remember that your tone can't be heard in e-mail. Have you ever attempted sarcasm in an e-mail, and the recipient took it the wrong way? E-mail communication can't convey the nuances of verbal communication. In an attempt to infer tone of voice, some people use emoticons, but use them sparingly so that you don't appear unprofessional. Also, don't assume that using a smiley will diffuse a difficult message.

Use a signature that includes contact information. To ensure that people know who you are, include a signature that has your contact information, including your mailing address, Web site, and phone numbers.

Summarize long discussions. Scrolling through pages of replies to understand a discussion is annoying. Instead of continuing to forward a message string, take a minute to summarize it for your reader. You could even highlight or quote the relevant passage, then include your response.

If you are forwarding or reposting a message you've received, do not change the wording. Please use caution with:

  • If you want to repost to a group a message that you received individually, ask the author for permission first.
  • Give proper attribution.
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Netiquette Rules

Howcast. (2009, May 26). How to follow proper netiquette rules [Video file]. Retrieved from