Disclaimer: All comments and opinions expressed are my own …….. 

We all interact online these days.  Most of you who are reading this will interact with others who have a hobby in common – Quilting and Patchwork.  But we can sometimes get a bit heated when we believe that we have the “right” way to do things.  So this started me thinking about Online Etiquette.

The following doesn’t just apply to our Quilting and Patchwork groups, it applies to all our online interactions.

First, let me give you a bit of background about myself.

I spent 36 years in the computer industry.  I go back so far that my first Cobol program was entered onto punch cards by the data entry ‘girls’ (and yes, of course they were all female!)  My second program was entered onto paper tape after an upgrade.  Yes – I AM that old!

All this means that there was no email (not even business email) or internet when I started, so I have learned the etiquette the hard way in a business environment, making it up as I go along.   However, I know I can still easily get it wrong.

Once upon a time, emails were written like letters.  Business emails still need to be – clear, concise and businesslike.  They are not always so.  I learned early on that, whatever you think of the content of the email that you receive – or the sender – DO NOT ANSWER IMMEDIATELY!  Type up your response if you need to (in a separate document for safety) and then STEP AWAY!  DO NOT send that response.  Wait for 24 hours, reread the response that you typed and think about it.   I call this my ‘pause for breath’.  If you still think that the response is appropriate, then send it, but remember that every action has consequences.  In this situation though, you often know the author of the email, so the dynamic is different.  But there are still likely to be consequences.

For a short while, emails also became more casual forms of communication as well – letters between friends.  That didn’t last long – the rise of texting (in various forms) and the ubiquitous Facebook have meant that letters and even emails between friends are virtually non-existent now.

I’ll continue talking about Facebook from now on, but my comments apply to any form of social media.

Texting tends to be between people who know each other directly, so the dynamic is different.  Facebook is different again.  I have a mixed view of Facebook.   There is a load of rubbish on it, but I love it for allowing people to keep in touch easily and bringing people together.  I keep in touch with people that I haven’t seen for years through Facebook.  Through Facebook groups that I have chosen to belong to I have “met” a group of lovely people that I consider friends.  I have put “met” in inverted commas because some I have physically met, and some I have only met online – but they are still friends.

The Facebook groups that I belong to are interesting, because they contain people I would not necessarily come into contact with, and many that I will never meet.  However, we all have a shared interest – Patchwork and Quilting.   Other people I interact with online I know in real life.  They know me, they know how I speak, they know I take the mickey out of people and that I am usually a smiley person – but don’t cross me.  Those in my Facebook groups are different.  They don’t know me; they don’t know how I am in real life.  If we were face to face would I speak to them the same way as those I know from work?  No, because I don’t know them.  Would I speak to them the same way on Facebook?  No I wouldn’t, because they don’t know me. That distinction is important – they don’t know me, or how I am in normal life.  I could easily offend them just by being my normal self.

You will probably have heard the term ‘keyboard warriors’ – to me it means those people who are quite happy to be rude to someone they have never met because they never have to face them – people at the other end of the ether.  Do you consider yourself to be a keyboard warrior?   Of course not I hear you cry!  I like to think I am not a keyboard warrior.  But think – have you ever provided unsolicited advice or pointed out a mistake in someone’s quilt online?  I understand that you are doing it with the best of intentions because you believe that they would want to know.  Would you do it if they were standing in front of you?  If they were standing next to their quilt in a show would you go up to them and say “you’ve made a mistake”?  I don’t believe most of us would.  If someone has specifically asked “can you scan my quilt for mistakes?” then that is different.  Think – how would you feel if you were at the receiving end of your comment?  If you have any doubt, please don’t say it, or at least think very carefully how you are going to say it.  Also, if you don’t agree with something, I think it is a good idea to use my ‘pause for breath’ technique as described in emails above.  It doesn’t have to be for 24 hours – but just pause and think.  You don’t have to not respond – but think about how you are going to respond.

There is another point here – remember that it “sounds different in your head”.   One of the reasons for business emails being formal is for clarity.   We would never be that formal on Facebook – it is not the same sort of environment, but this leaves room for misunderstanding.

For example, take the two statements below:

You like cats.

You like cats.

To you, they sound the same. To me, they sound completely different.

In the first, I said “you like cats” in an excited tone of voice, as if I was about to follow it up with “hooray!”.

In the second statement, I said “you like cats” in a tone of utter horror.

Each of these, of course, happened in my head.  You didn’t hear them.   In any written communication, the reader cannot hear the tone of voice being used or see the speaker’s face.  This means that when you write to interact online, you either need to explain yourself VERY carefully, use emojis, or don’t say anything at all. I know – I don’t necessarily like emojis, but at least you can indicate that you are being friendly using them!  I sometimes read comments that I suspect have been written in the way the person speaks.  The comment is intended to help, but it can sometimes read quite aggressively to me.  This comes back to how it sounds in your head and how it will be received.  Read it back to yourself out loud – could it be read in a way you didn’t intend?  Is it worth changing your wording?  If you need to use a different tone of voice, or different facial expressions to make it come out right, remember the reader is not going to see those, so beware.  Also, if you don’t intend being friendly, may I suggest that you don’t say it at all?

I also have thoughts about those who impart information and those who receive that information.

To the people who impart information:  Thank you.   I LOVE it.   I have learned sooooo much from you.  But you can be scary sometimes.  Some of you have vast amounts of information in your head from years of Patchwork and Quilting.  This can make you very intimidating at times.  Also, please remember, you can give us the benefit of your huge knowledge, but we cannot be forced to accept it.   We might not want to accept it.   We might not even agree with you, because our experience may be different.  But thank you for the information anyway.  I love it.

To the people receiving information:  Lucky you.  Accept the information, even if you don’t agree with it.  Put forward alternative points of view by all means, but do it nicely.  Don’t rubbish the other person’s point of view.  You don’t have to agree, and you are not required to implement the information that you have received.  Lucky you for being given that information, even if you don’t agree.  Remember, many of the people who provide information like this make their living from teaching this information, and you are getting it for free!

Online, we all need to accept that not everyone is going to agree.  That is what happens in life.  Online, because we are never going to meet the person we disagree with, it seems to be acceptable to rubbish them or argue apparently for the sake of arguing.  These are NEVER acceptable.  You wouldn’t do it face to face, so why do it online?  Let’s play nice, shall we?

My final point relates to online groups, specifically Facebook groups.  Facebook groups, especially closed groups (where the information is restricted to the members of the group) are effectively a club.  Clubs have rules, and committees to administer said rules.   In a club, if you don’t follow the rules, you risk censure from the committee and, if you continue to flout the rules, expulsion.  It is the same in a Facebook group.  Read the rules of the group.  Don’t berate the administrators of the group, please.   They are doing it voluntarily, and don’t need the hassle.   If the administrators have had to censure or expel someone, don’t hassle them about it.   I am sure that they will reinforce the rules to us, or even the specific rule that has been broken.  Otherwise, fundamentally, it is not our business why the censure or expulsion of an individual has taken place.  I know from personal experience how stressful being an administrator is – and my groups are exceptionally friendly and helpful!  If you don’t like the club / group rules, nobody is forcing you to be a member.  Leave if you want.  No one will stop you.

I have got to the end of this and have concluded that we don’t need lessons in online etiquette.  We are all civilised, consenting adults.   We know what we should do, but sometimes we don’t think it through or think before we act.  I understand that.  We all need to think before we act online.

I believe it can be summed up in four words, that cost nothing:

PLAY NICE MY FRIENDS! 😊

Thank you for feeling this is important enough that you have made the effort to read this. xx

Responses

  1. Maggie Attfield

    Thank you Lyn! A very reasoned, thoughtful and considerate approach. And exactly what is needed in the social media arena!
    I know here at UKQU it doesn’t ( often) get as heated as in other areas. But I feel the insensitivity and inconsiderateness often seen on social media is part of a slide towards the kind of “I’m all right Jack” attitude that ultimately sees communities at war, as we have seen so often on our TV news.
    And as an old chap I know would say-with his tongue in his cheek- “ it just isn’t part of growing up and being British”!