Does ‘online etiquette’ exist?

By Bill Colvard -

It’s really too bad that Emily Post isn’t still with us. She’d have her hands full exploring the uncharted waters of online etiquette.

“Online etiquette,” is a bit of an oxymoron. Does it really even exist? There is so much rudeness out there, made easier by the anonymity that the Internet often affords and by the distance created by not being in the physical space of the folks you’re interacting with.

What happens though when the Internet intersects with real life, as it did on my Facebook page last night? It was fascinating in the way that a train wreck is fascinating, and possibly just as deadly, at least to the friendships involved.

The thing that makes the whole incident so 21st century is that I even know of its existence. One of my Facebook friends became fed up with what she felt were mean-spirited and vicious political posts lampooning her political beliefs and preferred political party.

This in itself is not unusual. If you have a position on any issue, you probably know someone who disagrees with it and has access to an unlimited supply of nasty pictures with captions supporting their position, usually in a manner calculated to maximize annoyance. Some of them are pretty obnoxious. At least the ones you disagree with are obnoxious. The ones you agree with just seem clever, whether or not they are based on fact.

Things got interesting when my friend who’s had enough of this nonsense tagged the two worst offenders in the post, one of whom is also a Facebook friend. Suddenly I, along with hundreds of other friends of these three people, have a front row seat at a squabble that was simultaneously personal and very public.

Comments began to fly. Sides were taken. Counter-posts were posted. More comments ensued. More sides were taken. Long-term real-life friendships were on the brink of disintegrating.

What is the “online etiquette” in such a situation? Was it rude to post images and headlines that promote a cause or belief that you hold dear but disparage some of your friends who will be seeing it? Or is your page just that? It is your page to express yourself in any way you wish and anyone that has a problem can just not look at it? Was it wrong to tag the two people and take things public?

Actually, I don’t know. I do know that it’s possible to block content on Facebook as well as people. Most of my friends don’t bother with original content. They just share the obnoxious stuff that’s already out there. Just click on the little arrow and you get a few options, ranging from “unfriend” your friend to “block content from ….” Click that one. The offending message instantly vanishes and you get no more from that source. If your friends are as diligent as mine, they will find more irritating stuff from other sources, but over time the quantity will decrease.

It really is a 21st century problem. I was brought up that politics and religion were absolutely not topics of polite conversation. Everybody has their own opinion and conversation can get heated so we were just taught to not do it. The Internet changed all that. When I was a kid, I didn’t know how my parents voted. Now I know the political stance of virtually everyone I know. I know which candidate they support and quite often, I know why. I know who leans left and who leans right and I know how far.

Most of the time, this can be mildly interesting but just like Mama always said, “If you go there, it’s going to get ugly.” And last night not for the first time, Mama was right.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.

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