Civility is Easy… Right?

civility quote montagu

by Abigail Edwards

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.”

– Laurence Sterne

Keeping this idea in mind while we’re posting online is incredibly important, more so than most may realize. When we talk online, we often say things that we would never say in person because of the safety that anonymity provides. Anonymity should always be taken with a grain of salt, however. What better salt to flavor our meal at the online table than proper social etiquette?

We’ve all been taught the importance of manners, particularly in terms of our words. “What do we say now?” is an age-old prompt from a parent for a “Please” or a “Thank you,” but it’s also an interesting question in terms of our online interactions. Because our Internet communications are dominated by words, we need to consider what a flippant message may mean to someone reading it on the other side. 

When we remark on how someone’s selfie reflects their bad hair day or complain about their political point of view, we never know who’s going to read it. For all we know, the friend we share our gossip with could know someone who is guaranteed to be hurt by what we’re saying. It’s hard to forget times I’ve seen mutual friends hurt because of a post that they happened across. I’ve found that rereading what I’ve written before I click “send” is critical.

Sometimes the comments we make on what we see are simply misinterpreted. 

  • Poor punctuation or autocorrect slipups can easily create misunderstandings, but unfortunately there are times when abuse of online privilege is maliciously purposeful. 
  • In an experiment by, twenty-five percent of 10,000+ minors admitted that they were victims of cyberbullying. 
  • Our anonymity may provide a measure of protection for our identities but it doesn’t protect our hearts. We need to remember that those we interact with are more than just usernames; they’re real human beings.

I recently found myself following a heated discussion of online etiquette in regards to subtitles added to YouTube videos. A number of viewers were entertaining themselves by “hacking” the subtitles of their favorite YouTubers, adding their own jokes and comments to the closed captions in an attempt to feel included in the video. Obviously this raised several complaints and concerns from members of the deaf community, who rely on the subtitles for their best experience of the content. When inconsiderate users dismissed their needs, calling them selfish, problematic, insensible and fake, I felt compelled to chime in respectfully but firmly. Several others rallied to help me and a member of the deaf community later approached me to admit how grateful he was that I had spoken up.

The Internet provides many opportunities and venues to foster kinship and unity. Treating others with respect shouldn’t end when we log on to our favorite social media platforms. When we treat others poorly, we’re only alienating ourselves from the community we could have. Not only does proper etiquette demonstrate that we appreciate others and what they have to offer us, it fosters a safer environment for us and the people we interact with. Positivity, kindness and respect from online friends can be a light in someone’s life when nothing else is.

The age-old adage “Think before you speak” is now more important than ever. 

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