Importance of Netiquette in the Online Era

Nothing seems to be left untouched by the pandemic, including emails. Standard salutations such as ‘best wishes’ or ‘regards’ were replaced by more personalised and sympathetic ones like ‘Stay indoors and safe’, ‘Sincerely in these strange times’ or, to infuse some humour, ‘Sent from my living room’. The point is the general tenor of emails has become more considerate and genuine, especially considering how our tech-dependency has surged sizeably.

This opens up a discussion on internet behaviour or what is now being called ‘netiquette’.

Netiquette refers to the principles and rules that dictate proper and respectful behavior on the internet. These norms of conduct are intended to ensure that internet communication is respectful, ethical and considerate.

A portmanteau of the internet and etiquette, it is a collection of guidelines to maintain a comfortable and efficient online environment. Netiquette, like traditional etiquette, works differently in different social scenarios.

Adhering to netiquette ensures a positive and effective online environment. But overarching ideas such as ‘be kind’ or ‘respect all people’ remain the same. In fact,  report indicated that nearly 4.5 billion people worldwide are internet users, emphasizing the importance of these guidelines for maintaining respectful communication online. A Pew Research study revealed that 58% of teenagers have experienced online harassment or cyberbullying.

This behaviour could be prevented by following the ten rules of netiquette, according to Virginia Shea’s guide published by the Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine. Key elements of these rules include showing respect to other people’s time and bandwidth, refraining from inappropriate behavior, respecting other people’s privacy, and not abusing power. Adopting netiquette principles contributes to more respectful, considerate, and safer digital environments.

Table of contents:

Some Netiquette Norms

  • Remember the Human. It is very easy to get depersonalised when you are sitting in front of your computer. Remind yourself that a Zoom call is not a YouTube video. You are still dealing with very real people and emotions. Being critical might be a job requirement, but you cannot be blunt about it just because there is a computer in front of you.
  • Always interact online in a manner that acknowledges the individuality and humanity of others. Never forget that there is a real person on the other side of the screen who is also reading and processing your messages. Be considerate and empathetic in your communications.
  • Don’t be a lurker. Be an active participant
  • Engage in conversations and discussions online, rather than just observing others. It is beneficial to share your thoughts and opinions. Participating and contributing adds value to the digital community and encourages a more collaborative environment.
  • Participate when required and make your presence felt. You cannot always be the silent reader/observer. Figure out where you fit in and contribute effectively to the discussions, whether it is a classroom or a team meeting.
  • Be conscious of your tone, especially when you are texting or composing an email. Sarcasm and dry wit are great devices of communication, but they have a tendency to fall flat without non-verbal cues to support them. Your sarcasm can be perceived as rude or blunt by the recipient. So, unless you know the person o the other end very well, this is a risk not worth taking.
  • It is vital to be careful about how your words may be perceived. Ensure your tone is respectful, polite, and conveys the correct sentiment. Remember that humor or sarcasm may not be accurately interpreted in written text.
  • Avoid typing in all uppercase letters. This is not a new idea. Uppercase typing is always translated as shouting unless you are filling out a form. When you want to emphasize something, underlining or *asterisks* are better options than turning on your caps lock.
  • Language is a powerful tool. Please and thank you are still powerful words; they go a long way, even in an online forum. Take some time to familiarise yourself with the people you are interacting with. You should have a general idea of what is acceptable and what is not, what is offensive and what isn’t. Your identity as a colleague or a classmate will be built from a tiny box that has your video or your display picture. It is worth going the extra mile to be affable.
  • Don’t flame in public. Disagreements and frustrations are common, more so when faced with fear and fatigue from the pandemic. And most of us vent and gossip to rid ourselves of pent-up anger. But that is what personal chats and phone calls are for. Never flame in a professional, public forum. A flame is a comment that involves a vicious personal attack. Profanity is certainly not cool.
  • Refrain from public attacks or heated exchanges, commonly known as flaming, online. This not only creates a negative atmosphere but also portrays you in a poor light. Aim for civil and respectful disagreements if there are differences in opinion.
  • Don’t tYp lyk dis. Personal preferences aside, the way you type, your choice of vocabulary, and grammar all contribute to people’s perception of your work ethic. Take that few extra seconds to articulate your ideas grammatically and spell them correctly. Most computers have predictive inputs and spellchecks. Use them.
  • Avoid typing in text slang or non-standard abbreviations. It may be difficult for others to understand and often appears unprofessional. Maintain clarity and coherence by using complete words and proper grammar.
  • Be concise. There is a significant gap between in-person and online communication. We need to re-train our brains to be precise for, the attention span online is lesser than when you are talking face-to-face. Brevity and clarity are your new best friends.
  • Always fact-check. Whether you are answering a question or sharing a piece of information that you found online, ensure its accuracy. Human error is certainly acceptable and understandable, but the steps you take to avoid them determine your worth.
  • Use the mute button. In the era of video calls, netiquette dictates that you remain on mute and unmute yourself only when you are contributing to the discussion. It reduces ambient noises and removes distractions.
  • Be conscious of your environment. We get that everyone cannot spare a room as a designated workspace, is quiet and adequately furnished. It means that it is your responsibility to ensure nothing untoward is visible when you turn on your video. Ideally, create a makeshift workspace for yourself and attend all your calls from there.
  • Avoid sharing inappropriate or offensive content that can disturb or offend others. Maintain a professional and respectful atmosphere online to facilitate healthy communication and interaction.

Why is netiquette important?

Being mindful of netiquette promotes a positive online presence, enhances online relationships, and can help prevent conflicts or misunderstandings in the digital space.

The same works for sounds too. When you have many people living in your house, a schedule display works best. Everybody respects the others’ video call timings and does little things, like not running the blender, to make lives easier.

  • Respect the purpose of the group. Since a lot more of our lives are now online, it is important to separate the personal and the professional. Messages or forwards meant for friends are inappropriate in a workgroup. If the agenda of the group is specified, stick to it. Even if you are wishing a colleague for his/her birthday, make it a personal text rather than flooding the group.
  • Adhering to a group’s rules or norms shows consideration for other members’ opinions, interests and values, fostering a sense of community and cohesion. Violation of netiquette disrupts the group’s atmosphere and harmony, hence potentially hindering its objective, thus highlighting the significance of netiquette.
  • Share consciously. The internet is not anonymous as you think it is. Nothing that goes online is truly private and will stay there for a long time. Keep that in mind before sharing anything personal or something that might be construed as offensive.
  • Sharing consciously involves being aware of what you are posting or distributing online, ensuring it does not cause harm, spread misinformation or invade another person’s privacy. It encourages responsible and respectful online behavior which not only safeguards one’s digital footprint but also contributes positively to the digital world.
  • Respect privacy. Just as you are concerned about yours, you need to respect others’ privacy. Get permission before you screenshot or record an online live session.
  • Formalities matter. While online spaces are considerably less formal than physical ones, it does not imply that you can address people casually. Adherence to formalities in any online session depends upon the people involved. Use appropriate titles and respectful addresses, until they allow you to address them casually. If you are linking your social media profiles to your professional email, ensure that your social media handles are work appropriate.
  • Be prepared. This includes both mentally and physically. Sign in a few minutes before start time, keep your stationery handy to take notes, and present yourself well. If you are expected to turn on your video, be dressed appropriately. Run a test on your camera and mic and keep it ready.
  • Time is an essential commodity. Working from home or studying from home does not mean that schedules no longer exist. Punctuality is an admirable quality and indicates respect. Join a meeting on time, submit projects by deadlines, and give yourself time goals to complete tasks.
  • Be inclusive. Disagreeing with someone is acceptable. What matters is how you do it. Everyone’s opinions carry the same value and deserve to be heard. Interrupting someone in the middle of their sentence is unparliamentary. When you find the topic going out of hand or becoming too one-sided, feel free to moderate and bring the discussion back on track.
  • Practicing inclusivity in netiquette promotes a sense of belonging and acceptance among all participants, making them feel valued, respected, and heard. This builds positive relationships and fosters open, productive discussions and exchanges of ideas.

Towards safe and inclusive workspaces

The internet and its anonymity equation have undergone a paradigm shift. It is as varied and diverse and has made our relationship with it more nuanced.

Prioritizing safety and inclusivity is not just about moral obligations or compliance with legal regulations, but it has been found to directly influence creativity, innovation, productivity, and employees’ loyalty towards an organization.

We lean on this medium quite heavily for both work and play, and the onus is on us to demarcate these two areas.

Online bullying and bad behaviour take a toll on our mental health, which is already fragile, reeling from the effects of the lockdown.

As the future progresses, it is predicted that workspaces focusing on safety and inclusivity will become a standard norm, leading to a more equal, respectful, and efficient corporate world.

Following some general guidelines that make us more empathetic will certainly help us all in creating safer and more inclusive workspaces.

Read: What is the Internet of Behaviours

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