October 25, 2012

They Called Me an Idiot! A Review of Web Etiquette

by Alvin Apple

Recently I received an email from someone who had read one of my articles online. This reader told me that, while reading my article, she had noticed that I had used "their" where I needed "they're." A simple mistake, but one that could have been avoided with a little better proofreading on my part. I would have been pleased to receive this reminder to be more astute, but the message didn't stop there. The reader went on to call me, among other things, an idiot. Now we all make mistakes, and we all have our pet peeves. (Mine happens to be dawdlers.) Clearly this reader's peeve is the mixing up of homonyms, and my mistake made me a criminal in her eyes. Thus, hidden behind the anonymity of email, she attacked.

As a frequently published author, I am used to criticism, and always open to a reminder to pay more attention, even if that reminder stings a little at the time. I am not, however, nor do I think I will ever be, open to being called an idiot. Was I upset by this person? Mildly. Do I think there's a problem with web etiquette in general? Absolutely. The insulting reader wasn't doing anything different than so many other self-appointed web critics do all the time.

The basic problem with web etiquette lies in the inherent anonymity of e-correspondence. The fact that we can't see someone, or hear their voice, does not entitle us to treat them rudely. Anonymity makes us bold, and some of us tend to forget our manners when sending emails or posting on discussion boards. I have a feeling that if this reader had been speaking to me face to face the word "idiot" would never have been invoked.

Think about it, when dealing with mistakes or service problems in person, we always try to be polite while still getting our point across, right? That is a basic social rule, but one that has been all but thrown away on the web. I have read atrocious things online that I believe never would have been spoken aloud had the people involved been in the same room together.

Let's try to bring good old fashioned manners to the web. When composing an email involving a complaint or a correction, write it as though you will be reading it aloud to the person you're writing to. Yes, you want to get your point across, but do so without being nasty. When posting on a discussion board, try to keep a conversational, even-tempered tone, even if someone has attacked your statement or question. Rise above the situation and keep things polite and decorous. If we all remember our manners, the web can be a much friendlier, and more professional place.

Alvin Apple helps everyday people start businesses they will enjoy. Then he teaches them how to succeed. Read all his helpful strategies, including his latest article, "Use Hands-on Marketing to Sell Like Crazy" at alvinapple.com. Reach Alvin at 801-328-9006 or alvin@drnunley.com.