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The term netiquette is a combination of net (net: short form for internet) and etiquette. Netiquette refers to a collection of behavioral rules that relate to different forms of communication on the Internet. They are social rules for a polite and respectful interaction with participants in a communication medium, in which either one-to-one communication or one-to-many communication takes place. The rules of conduct are not binding in a legal sense, but they are generally accepted recommendations for interpersonal communication in digital media. These include, for example, newsgroups, email, social media, forums, chats or communities.
Over the course of time, general rules and recommendations have become prevalent, which are described with terms such as courtesy, rules of conduct, or etiquette. There is a social moral consensus about these rules of behavior, even if individual aspects and details are controversial. The Internet as a collection of digital communication forms is characterized by the fact that two or more participants in communication do not have the context information such as location or time as well as the various signals of the speakers such as mimic and gestures, as would be the case in normal communication situations. But such information is relevant in order to understand and correctly classify statements.
Netiquette is based on the idea that certain ethical rules of behavior promote the way communication is conducted in a positive sense and make the interaction more pleasant. If the participants of a communication medium commit themselves to certain behavioral rules, a pleasant handling of the medium and a respectful coexistence are ensured. Depending on the medium, conventions and rules are therefore proposed so that the participants can understand and relate to the statements and opinions of the respective other party. This is to avoid rudeness, insults, and technical problems, as well as incorrect handling of the medium.
Similar to non-digital communication, these rules developed over time. The first version of a netiquette is attributed to the Usenet. Regular users gradually suggested individual rules, which resulted from examples in which the communication or the handling of the medium did not proceed as intended. The Netiquette Guidelines RFC 1855, which were published in 1995, are the generally accepted standard on the Internet. This document is also the blue print for many other netiquettes of website operators and providers of information services.
Types of Netiquettes
To describe different netiquettes, it is useful to first distinguish between two types of communication. The netiquette is often derived from the first type of communication and then applies with small changes for publicly visible discussions and dialogues.
- One-to-one communication: Emails, private messages in various media.
- One-to-many communication: Mailing lists, public chats, forums, pin boards, WWW boards, social networks, communities, websites, and microblogging services.
Moreover, a distinction can also be made between company communication (B2B, B2C) and private dialogues, where similar behavioral rules are used, which may be supplemented by company internal and corporate guidelines. There are a variety of behavioral rules on the Internet. Each netiquette is dependent on the digital medium, the respective website operator or service provider and may contain specific rules.
Here are some examples of different digital media and individual selected rules of conduct.
- E-mails, mailing lists, newsletters: Greetings, a polite address, as well as a correct spelling of the used words and phrases are a must. The recipient should be kindly greeted and said good bye to. The content of the email should be clear and comprehensible and should be described by a short subject line. Due to different character sets and restrictions in email traffic, it is also advisable to use general character encoding such as ASCII or Unicode. Very large attachments are dispensed with out of consideration for the recipient and their Internet connection. Spam emails are commonly considered as a violation of netiquette.
- Forums, chats and communities: Chats (chatiquette), forums, and communities often pay attention to respectful handling and correct technical use. The participants should not offend each other and all communication should take place according to the capabilities of the technical medium. Courtesy, as well as factually appropriate threads and the avoidance of cross-postings and double postings. Extensive use of uppercase is considered screaming and the readability leaves something to be desired. Greeting and farewell phrases are as obligatory as correct spelling. In many forms of media, however, special terms and abbreviations have become common, which represent problems for laymen and beginners. Wikis and translations help.
- Social media and microblogging: In social networks, such as Facebook and microblogging services such as Twitter, netiquettes are useful to avoid insults, racist, and sexist statements as well as cyber-mobbing and stalking. Through the virtual communication form, some users are often inclined to cross the limits of traditional communication. Shit-storms often result and partly also legally relevant derailments, which not only violate the conditions of use of the respective medium, but also violate the usual rules of netiquettes. Participants are urged to be respectful and polite and to adhere to the conditions of use and codes, which are usually tailored to the medium.
Practical relevance reference and legal issues
In digital media, however, this means not only being polite but also respecting aspects such as data protection, privacy, security regulations or copyright and usage rights. It is true that the netiquette and its enforcement is in the hands of the operator of a medium, but special violations of regulations can lead to legal violations which go far beyond interpersonal rules and constitute penalties. A violation of the netiquette is usually negatively sanctioned, for example, by the concerned forum participant getting a warning or the sender of an email getting notified about the violation of the netiquette. In the case of legal infringements, such sanctions may be much more serious. Netiquette is often seen as not binding, but certain violations of the rules of communication can result in legal violations and the dividing lines are often fuzzy. Examples are shit-storms, which include hate speech and agitation, or the posting of a protected work which disregards copyright and usage rights. In practice, there have been numerous legal violations in recent times, which have led to penalties and went far beyond negative sanctions.
Relevance to usability
Often, these rules develop slowly in the use of the medium (see: Participatory Design) or they are published by the site operators. From the point of view of usability and user-friendliness of digital media, netiquettes are therefore an integral part of the use of such media on the web, social web or the semantic web. Those who do not want to comply with the basic rules of communication should use other media or learn how to use the Internet and increase their media competence.
- Netiquette Guidelines tools.ietf.org. Accessed on 04/11/2016