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The Online Golden Rules

If you want to be a respected player on the internet, you need to respect the rules. That's true of every workplace, educational venue, or social environment in which you may find yourself. The internet is no exception.

Here are some basic rules of internet etiquette (netiquette) to ponder:

Make Sense

Proper spelling and grammar make a difference in how your virtual correspondents see you and it makes it easier for them to read and value your words. That said, you may have written a really beautiful paragraph with no spelling or grammar errors and yet your paragraph makes no sense. Make sure you write your messages so that anyone can glean your meaning. Know what you're talking about and bring in sources to back you up. If you get found out for giving out false information after a cursory glance at the topic, or having based what you wrote on opinion rather than fact, your credibility will suffer.

Don't criticize, insult, or use offensive language in forums or even in private, if you want to be a player—this is called "Flaming." You may, however, use the asterisk to represent the missing letters of curse words (s**t) or substitute polite euphemisms for those words instead (fudge, crud). Using all capital letters is considered to be online screaming, so make sure your caps lock is on off.

Accentuate the Positive

The list of don'ts is very long, but there's also room for the positive in netiquette. For instance, the beauty of the internet is in the sharing, so share the wealth of your knowledge. Do you have a particular expertise? Helping others is a good way not only to get your name known as a player and as someone who knows his stuff, but it also makes you feel good.

Flaming can be offensive, but a flame war is even worse. That is the term used for two or three people who dominate a list with strong-held, opposite opinions. The threads can get long and nasty and don't leave room for others to bring in new ideas. Besides, people get annoyed at having their time wasted—opening up all those inappropriate messages filling up their inboxes can be irritating.

Keep your nose out of other people's business. That means no snooping into other people's inboxes in the workplace. There's a famous story of a newspaper reporter who read his coworkers' email messages. They got wind of what he was doing and planted false information in order to affect a sting. Sure enough, the reporter leaked the false information in the press and lost his job. Be smart, respect your coworkers' privacy and keep both your reputation and your job.

If you are in a position of power that enables you to gather private information about others or read their correspondence, avoid the temptation or lose your morality forever.

Everyone was once a "newbie" and there's nothing wrong with being new to an online venue. Just be honest about your lack of knowledge and you'll find that most people are kind about showing you the way. If someone seems to be a newbie, write him in private to show him the errors of his ways so you don't add to his embarrassment by airing his sins in public.

For more netiquette tips, see:

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