Campus Technology Services

Taking Steps for the Future

Netiquette by Sean Manns and Don Michaels


"The beginning of the end of a great civilization is the disappearance of simple good manners." Hubert H. Humphrey (1911-1978)

In normal human interactions we recognize the need for some mutually agreed-upon rules of acceptable conduct. These rules are codified as "etiquette" or "good manners", and on our better days we all try to abide by them. This is certainly no less true in using the Internet, where the rules of the road are often termed "Netiquette". Netiquette consists basically of two parts:

1) being considerate of other people's feelings and intellectual property rights when sending information back and forth, and

2) being conscious of the fact that we are using a shared resource, and trying to ensure that everyone has fair access.

Often someone new to electronic mail and news groups will be so outraged that they will respond angrily. This is known as "flaming" and can get quite out of hand. People forget that once they push the button to send the mail, there is no retrieving it. One should never put into a mail message anything that they would not like to see posted on a bulletin board with their name on it. Some 'netters' put this even more strongly, "Don't put on email what you wouldn't be willing to see printed on the front page of The New York Times with your name and picture attached."

When writing a message you should know that it is very easy for a message to get forwarded to a place you did not expect the message to go. In other words be careful what you say because it could get back to someone you do not want to read it. You do not want your boss to find out about your daily cat-nap before s/he gets back from lunch.

When forwarding messages try to cut out information that is not relevant to the conversation you are discussing. It is considered rude by some people to forward a message that you did not write without the permission of the person who wrote the message. It is also a violation of copyright to forward a message intact without permission.

If someone sends you email to which you have strong negative reactions, wait a few hours (or a few days) before responding. It's sort of the electronic equivalent of "counting to ten". Remember too that in email you lose the emphasis that eye contact, voice inflection, and body language add to face-to-face communication. Your comment may be intended to be facetious, but your electronic correspondent may not know that. Put little cues in your mail when you intend the remarks to be humorous. There are all sorts of little "smiley faces" that can be made with simple ascii characters that inform the reader of your intent. For example, :-) means "This is a joke, silly". :-( means "Too bad, I'm sad." There are hundreds of variants on this for wry comments, for "I had no idea!" type comments, etc. Check the campus gopher for a list of "smileys".

When working in groups on the Internet, resist the temptation to criticize their people in public. Try writing a message to the person directly instead of through the group. It can be very embarrassing to be criticized in such a public way and feelings could get hurt.

Another problem experienced by the electronic community is that many new users do not understand that they are using a shared resource, and one that they are not paying for directly. If one person ties up a significant fraction of computer resources, then others don't have access. For example, communicating with your friend in the next room by sending messages through a "chat service" in the Netherlands is an absolute waste of valuable resources, so walk down the hall instead. Sending messages that have long attachments or long signature files or that include long messages to which you are responding adds all that much strain to network resources. When you have finished your work and won't use the terminal for 15 minutes or so, disconnect and get back on later. This will give someone else a chance. When printing, don't print huge files (hundreds of pages) that you probably won't ever read anyway. It wastes resources, including paper. When you have to get into the computer systems to finish the paper that's due in two hours, you will appreciate that others have been considerate.

Therefore, simple common sense dictates that you be considerate too. Ten Commandments for Computer Ethics from Computer Ethics Institute

1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.
3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.
4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
6. Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid.
7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization.
8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.
9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write.
10. Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect.

The best guide is to use common sense or ask someone who would know better than you about etiquette on the network. If everyone works together, everything works better.


Some material is adapted from "The Net User Guidelines and Netiquette" by Arlene H. Rinaldi, Florida Atlantic University. Sept 3, 1992