Sunday, 5 August 2012

The unlikeable face of social networking: standards of behaviour online

Is it just me turning into a grumpy old woman, or is there a real issue with bad manners and overall standards of behaviour across social networks? It often seems as if a whole different set of standards apply when interacting online – and they don’t always compare favourably, to put it mildly …
Now, I’m a great advocate of social networking. At it’s best, it’s an amazing way of making new contacts (some of whom can become great friends), sharing information, learning new things and, for those of us in business, one of the most effective forms of networking and marketing you’ll find (so long as you have a good social media strategy). It's also a great way for people to share  and communicate during great occasions (such as the 2012 Olympics), give moral and practical support during times of trouble (e.g the clean-up operations organised online during the 2011 Riots) and raise awareness of good causes (for example the charity 'Help Harry Help Others' which captured the hearts of so many through the tweets of young Harry Moseley).
So it’s a shame when some people behave in ways that they I’m sure they wouldn’t in face-to-face communications. It can range from careless oversights, such as not thanking people for help given online (easily done, I know, but not good) to downright rudeness and, in extreme cases, abusive, threatening and even criminal behaviour; the cases of the student jailed earlier this year for posting racist tweets following the collapse of footballer Fabrice Muamba, and the teenager arrested just last week for posting abusive tweets about Olympic diver Tom Daley are just 2 high-profile incidents.
Obviously the perceived safe distance and relative anonymity of social networks explain some of the more extreme ‘keyboard warrior’ behaviour - although prosecutions for unacceptable posts and incitement will hopefully go some way to busting the myth that ‘anything goes’ when communicating online.  But at a less extreme level, what is good practice when dealing with others on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest or any other social networks, blogs and forums?
  1. Stop and think - before you press send and rocket your comments into cyberspace,  just take a step back and consider what you’re posting. This is particularly important if you’re posting in response to something which has upset or annoyed you, but also applies if you’re joining in banter with people you don’t really know. Consider whether a publically-posted comment is the best way of dealing with the point – would a direct message be more appropriate and less inflammatory? If someone has posted something illegal or damaging about you you can obviously seek redress by contacting the network providers. That aside, always consider the impact your post has on other people, including potentially negative impact on yourself or your brand. I’m sure I’m not the only person to unlike/unfollow someone because I’ve seen them post something which has put me off. Also remember that the worldwide web has a very long memory, so a hasty post or comment could seriously damage your online reputation for a long time to come!
  2. Be a good 'digital citizen' - seems an obvious thing to say, but in an ideal world the same kind of 'rules' about appropriate, responsible and respectful behaviour which we apply in our everyday lives should be the norm online. There's an obvious need for greater awareness about online etiquette, rights, responsibilities and security for everyone who uses the Internet - to some extent this is being addressed through the education system nowadays, although those of us who are 'learning as we go' have probably had to learn from (sometimes bitter) experience what is and isn't acceptable. Microsoft offers a very helpful digital citizenship toolkit which includes plenty of useful materials to raise awareness about a wide range of online issues.
What do you think? Is behaviour on social networks any worse that 'real life', or is it a fair reflection of the way our world is today? Any good practice tips you'd like to share - or any pet hates?

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