Those of you who know me in real life are painfully aware that the mere thought of me writing an etiquette guide to any activity involving hoomans is laughable. When they were handing out social skills I was either surreptitiously reading sci-fi under my desk, writing stories in my head, or somewhere else entirely, most likely doing something reprehensible. However, it has been brought to my attention that there are people who have this “social interaction” thing down even less than I do, which is saying something. The attention-bringing was brought by a veritable plethora of people who got their ass slung out of my page for not only behaving horribly in the first place, but doubling down on their shit when I called them on it.
This brief list of guidelines aims to bridge the gap between people’s social skills and the standard of behavior that won’t get them into trouble in the more manicured parts of the interwebs. Hell, if everyone made a good-faith effort to follow these guidelines, maybe the interwebs wouldn’t be the repugnant cesspit that they so often are.
Mostly, though, this is a warning: pull this shit on my page and I won’t give you a second chance to do so.
Don’t say something over the interwebs that you wouldn’t say to that person in real life. There are notable exceptions to this rule, e.g. messaging your stalker ex to tell them to stop getting in touch so you can report their sorry asses to the police, coming out to your extended conservative Christian family, etc. By and large, though, if you wouldn’t open your mouth and let those words fall out of it when in the presence of a person, you most likely don’t want to let your hands type it, either. The interwebs grant us a huge degree of impersonality, sometimes even the illusion of anonimity, but there is an actual human being at the other end of all your interactions. If you are more of a dickhole long-distance than you would be in person, you might want to have a good think about why that is. If you’re generally abusive to people this rule won’t help you, but I don’t think there’s any helping you anyway.
Conversations have a topic and a tone; heed them or go play elsewhere. Conversing with people is a cooperative effort: two or more individuals decide to engage in a mutual exchange of information according to mutually agreed behavioral standards. If you barge into a conversation about cupcakes to discuss eclairs, you’re being a jackass. It doesn’t matter that you know that eclairs are the real desserts: they are not what the people engaging in that conversation are talking about. If you barge into a conversation that is being carried out according to certain standards (e.g. no swearing, short comments only, start every comment with “as the oracle foretold”, whatever) and you breach those standards, you are also being a jackass. If you barge into a conversation and demand that the topic or tone be changed to suit you, guess what? Jackass, again. You are always free to start your own conversations on your chosen topics and run them according to your preferred standards. If you can’t do that because nobody ever joins them, yeah, well, maybe it’s because they think you’re a jackass.
A gentleperson’s home is their castle, even when that castle is virtual. Here I’m assuming that I’m talking to people who are aware of the basic principles of decorum when one goes visiting with someone or enters a public establishment. Carrying those principles across to virtual locales would go a long way towards turning the interweb into livable spaces. Would you stand in the middle of someone’s living room and scream abuse at their partner? If not, don’t do it on their FB page. Would you walk into a church and scream that god is dead? If not, don’t do it on a church forum. Would you put up a sign to your store on someone’s balcony without their consent? If not, don’t use their pages to push your product. And so on, and so forth. There are obvious limits to this: would you stand in the middle of your home, beat the crap out of your partner, and expect third parties not to have something to say about it? Would you display a nazi flag on your balcony and not expect your neighbours to give you the stink eye? Yeah, I didn’t think so. And if you are one of those people who demand that all such limits should be tightly defined, justified, and copied in triplicate or they don’t count, I refer you to the above paragraph: you’re rule-lawyering yourself into jackassdom.
Don’t expect free passes just because you’re in a virtual setting. If you know that screaming abuse at someone’s partner in their living room would get you thrown out of their house, there is no earthly reason to be surprised when doing the same on their page gets you thrown out of there. And if it gets you thrown out of their lives, that shouldn’t come as a shock, either. Your virtual interactions are as real as all others, and can carry real repercussions.
Don’t yuck someone’s yum. Remember that kid in school who never got invited anywhere because they’d always find fault with whatever it was people were enjoying? That kid who, when you got an A- on a test, would ask you what you got wrong? That kid who would celebrate your new shoes by reminding you that they’d get scuffed in no time? That kid whose bike was newer, whose mom baked better cakes, whose dad drove a bigger car? That kid who was going to have a real Laserquest party, not just play with squirtguns in the garden like you are doing, I mean, seriously, this is all you’ve got for us to do and we should pretend we like it? When you wade into a conversation where people are enthusing over something just to vent your negative opinion of it, you are That Kid. Disagreeing on matters of taste isn’t the same as providing factual, useful information about an issue (e.g. “if you bought X model car you need to get it checked at a garage because there’s been as safety recall). Your tastes and standards are utterly subjective and no more significant than those of any other person. You don’t get to decide what is “good” and what is “bad”, only what you like or don’t like. And if you believe that your need to ventilate your negative opinion trumps people momentary happiness, please bear in mind that kids only ever went to That Kid’s party because it was at Laserquest.
Don’t yum someone’s yuck. Someone doesn’t like something in their life: their job, their partner, their family, their body, the pudding they get at lunch, whatever. You might think they should like those things, and that’s your prerogative, but telling them so is not a great idea. Aside from the fact that you’re deciding what they should and shouldn’t like without access to all the information they have (maybe they are supertasters; maybe their stepmother is a Klingon and they don’t want to out her), your preaching won’t make them like those things any more. If there is any change at all, is that they’ll like you less. Which doesn’t meant that you’re obliged to listen to people moan about the same thing on repeat, particularly if it’s something they could change but don’t.
Don’t respond to someone’s problem with any sentence containing the word “just”. I don’t care what the problem is and I don’t care what your knowledge of the issue is. If you feel remotely tempted to stick a “just” in your response, stop and consider what that word implies about your attitude, and how it would feel if you were at the receiving end.
Don’t respond to someone’s problem by saying that you don’t have that problem. Aside from the fact that in that context nobody cares, it looks like gloating at best, a gross deficiency in empathy at worst. And if you don’t see how that’s a problem, I’m be happy to diagnose you long-distance with the latter.
Don’t respond to someone’s problem with uninformed advice. People don’t need to waste time reading crap, even when it’s your artisanal, organically-grown crap. People definitely don’t need to waste time reading crap when they are busy dealing with an actual problem. People also don’t need to get hurt because you decided that your need to look or feel all-knowing was more important than their need for informed guidance.
Don’t respond to someone’s problem with advice you gleamed from Wikipedia. In real life you might interact with people who do not have access to the internet and are struggling to find out the answer to something readily accessible (true story: when kiwis first appeared in shops back home, my mother didn’t know what parts of them were edible). But when you are on the interwebs, you can assume that the people you meet there are also on the interwebs. If their problem could be solved by an answer that comes up on the first page of a google search, they would no longer have a problem. Give them some damn credit.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word. But if you’ve just stepped on someone’s toes, intentionally or not, and you want to continue having any kind of relationship with them, you might want to learn to use it.
*It has been brought to my attention that dickholes don’t gape (see comments). I was using it as I use “pie hole”, as in “the hole in which you stick a pie”. As ever, I am for my writing to be non-orifice-specific.