Cell phones, social media, texting and email have fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Technology has made it easier and faster to keep in touch, but it has also created a variety of new ways to unintentionally irritate or insult. Before you click send on that text or update your Facebook, consider these etiquette tips for the digital age.
The Golden Rule. When surfing Facebook, you’re probably chatting and sharing stories directly with your friends and family. You’re unlikely to meet anyone you don’t know, and you’re probably pretty polite in your communications, minding your P’s and Q’s so you don’t offend Aunt Myrtle.
Venture too far from the familiar, however, and you can find yourself in dangerous territory. It’s very easy to forget that there is an actual person behind an online persona posting their opinion in a blog, or commenting on a news story you read in the Huffington Post. Before you type out a scathing retort or insult someone else’s opinion, take a moment to imagine saying those words to the person while they are standing in front of you. Treat others with respect and kindness, the way you would like to be treated, whenever you communicate online. Refrain from calling people names. Read over everything you write a couple times before you click “post.” Once it’s out there, it’s nearly impossible to take it back, so be nice.
Mass emails and texts. We’ve all received one – an email from a co-worker who listed everyone and their dog in the “to” line. Ugh. Don’t be the person who clicks “reply to all” and spams everyone with multiple replies. When communicating between two or three friends, planning a get-together, “reply to all” is probably OK, but any more than five recipients, and your reply-to-all can be a nuisance. Click “reply” instead.
Group texting works the same way. Communicating with a couple people at once is great, but refrain from using group text for mass communication. I once received a birth announcement to over thirty people via text message and my phone was exploding with notifications for hours after the original text. Everyone wanted to send congratulations, which was great for the recipient, but not so much for the rest of us along for the ride.
If you find yourself in this situation and have an iPhone, you can toggle off notifications for the thread by selecting the group text and then clicking “Details” in the upper right corner. Touch the “Do Not Disturb” button to disable notifications of new posts on that thread.
Can you HEAR me now? When I first started communicating online, I was pretty green. I had no idea that using caps lock to emphasize a word meant that I was shouting at my friends. Oops. We’ve all received a message or two from someone whose caps lock seems permanently affixed in the ON position. If you’re madly typing away, and you look up to realize that your caps lock key was on the whole time, the polite thing to do is to re-type your message. Please don’t click “send” anyway. Your friend will assume that you’re screaming in their face, and that’s not the way you want to come across.
Emoji and texting abbreviations. Making yourself understood through a written medium like text or email is downright tricky. Using emoji and “LOL” when I am writing to a friend allows me to get my meaning across more easily, and I’m less likely to offend people. However, these sorts of communications are never appropriate in a professional setting. Adding a smiley-face emoticon or “LMBO” at the end of a sentence is not going to be appreciated by your boss or your customers, so avoid it in all professional text and email interactions. Save your witty personality for your face-to-face conversations.
Respect the online privacy of others. Smartphones + social media has encouraged a 24/7 documentation of our daily life. You’re having a fun brunch with your buddies so you snap a picture, post it to Facebook, and tag everyone you know. We’ve all done it.
Yet, according to a study by The Pew Institute, 57% of Facebook users strongly dislike it when people post pictures of their children without first asking permission. Respect your friends’ online privacy the next time you’re at a birthday party by asking if it’s OK for you to post a picture of them (or their kids) before you do.
Be present. The distraction of our devices pulls us in a thousand directions, whether it’s checking that one last work email or monitoring your Twitter feed from your phone. Most of us have grown compulsive about being constantly reachable and connected, to the detriment of our face-to-face interactions.
The next time you’re spending time with a friend or loved one, put down your phone and look them in the eye when you’re having a conversation. Set your devices to vibrate (if off or silent isn’t an option) and store them out of your line of sight. If you need to take a break to check your messages, don’t try to multi-task; step away for a moment and return with your full focus on the person you’re with. There’s no better way to make your loved on feel important than to give them your undivided attention.
Read more: Etiquette in the Digital Age