This entry is part 12 of 39 in the series 40 years online
You can’t.
You should.
You must.
Always…These are the kind of declarative statements that Internet users love to make about how to behave online. No surprise, then, that the do’s and don’ts of online conversation got codified early on in what was soon known as “netiquette”. The term netiquette, attributed to Apple’s Chuq von Rosbach, first appeared in 1983. And by then its tenets were already well-established, as documented in Emily Post for Usenet.

The old rules of netiquette

Reviewing that 1983 post, as well as other early and canonical descriptions of  netiquette, it’s striking how much has stayed the same.  Here is the original list of netiquette rules first circulated in 1983, with recent quotes making the same points in social media terms:

1. Put all items in an appropriate group.

Don’t abuse your network – Use your network the right way. Don’t post how your day is going to your network all day long. It’s unprofessional and quite frankly, unnecessary. If you must post something, post something of significance that your network can actually use, like a great social media link you just found or some sort of tip, advice or quote you find significant.

— Nathan Kievman, Social Media Etiquette: 10 Commonly Overlooked Best Practices in Social Media

2. Reply via mail.

[Violation:] Using your Twitter feed as a chat room for conversations that are exclusive in nature and not as a broadcast medium. It’s nice that Twitter empowers you to use the @ symbol to talk directly to individuals, and that’s fine in moderation. As a friend recently said to me, “I’m tired of my Twitter feed being a [private]conversation between person X, person Y, and person Z.” Why don’t the three of you get a room?

— Tamar Weinberg, The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook: The Most Egregious Sins on Social Media Sites, Exposed

3. Exhibit care in preparing items.

poster: Google before you tweet is the new think before you speak

— From i love typography

4. Read followups.

If someone asks you a question don’t ignore them. If they are trying to strike conversation respond back to them because that is how you become a good social media user. If you have been doing this for a while remember that you were there once in those shoes when you were trying to get going.

— Nick Stamoulis, Social Media Communication Etiquette Tips

5. Don’t be rude or abusive.

Don’t be a Keyboard Gangsta: Probably the worst thing about the Internet is the keyboard gangstas. You’ve surely run across at least one of these in your lifetime. They sit at their keyboard talking trash to everyone they encounter. They say things online that they would never have the nerve to say to a real person’s face. Don’t try to ruin everyone else’s online experience because you don’t have any friends in real life.

The 11 rules of social media etiquette on Digital Labz

6. Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks.

Treat others how you want to be treated. Reciprocal good manners ensure that Facebook doesn’t become another MySpace.

Facebook Netiquette: How to use this social media tool

7. Use descriptive titles.

Fill out the Subject line properly. People want to know immediately what your E-mail is about. Help them out by filling out the subject line with the proper text. Not only does this make it easier for people to refer to or go through your messages; it also reassures them that you’re not a spammer selling potency pills or a bank representative in South Africa out to deceive unsuspecting recipients. You can even use this field to your advantage and write irresistible subject lines that will definitely boost your E-mail campaign.

Email Etiquette in the Time of Social Media

8. Cite references.

Don’t make claims that cannot be guaranteed. Social media is a place to be honest and truthful. “The fact is, rumors and sensational posts may send readers flocking to you at first, but dishonesty and irresponsible behavior will ultimately come back to haunt you.” Libert recommends waiting an hour (or even a day) before you send that sensational message into the public domain.

—  Social Media Netiquette: Online Manners Worth Remembering

9. Summarize the original item in followups.

Personalized comments show authors that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say, and that you actually took the time to read what they wrote. This doesn’t mean you need to write a long comment, just be sure to articulate why you felt compelled to say something in the first place. Did you learn something new? Did you have a similar experience? Do you want to voice a different perspective? Quote the author directly if you need to clarify what specific sentences you’re responding to.

Are you well-versed in comment etiquette?

10. In posting summaries of replies, summarize.

Twitter has a built-in RT function that gives the original poster credit, but it is more insightful to rewrite the tweet and include a short comment on the content.

— Social Media Etiquette Series, part II: Twitter

11. Be as brief as possible.

Don’t cram too much into your updates. Remember the old advertising maxim – sell the sizzle, not the sausage. You want to share a tip or an idea, not flip your reader’s mind open and fill it full of every last detail you know on your subject. Give your readers a reason to come back tomorrow for more – keep it simple and light. If someone wants highly specialised information, they will know how to contact you for private consultation – and that’s the aim of the whole excercise.

10 Vital Netiquette Writing Tips for Social Media

12. Don’t submit items berating violators of these rules.

Ignore the idiots: This is key. When you participate in social media, you will get spammed, criticized, and even bullied or abused. Learn to ignore trolls…or at minimum, develop a bit of a thicker skin.

Etiquette in Social Media

13. Don’t make people read the same thing more than once.

Social Media should not be updated more times then the amount of glasses of water you drank today. Some people are going to need to up their water intake! – Social Media Etiquette at Go 4 Pro Photos

The new rules of netiquette

Even surprising is how muchhas changed: the basics of netiquette, as consolidated by the end of the last century, really don’t address the full range of social challenges that we face in the era of social media. So here are some of the new rules of netiquette that pop up in post after post:

14. Put your best foot forward.

Make sure that you project the image that you want to present to people at all times. – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Social Media Etiquette

15. Be authentic.

Do be a real person-you have a life other than your company- share it.

Are you using social media etiquette?

16. Be generous.

Contribute something. We’ve all seen those forum posters who just agree mindlessly with everyone to get their signature line with its flashing links out there. Don’t be that person. Instead, take the time to really offer some value and make yourself useful to others. They will come back for more.

7 rules of social media netiquette

17. Don’t ask people to shill for you.

I will tweet your stuff, on occasion. Stuck for some comments and you know (and I mean KNOW) me, then feel free to DM me about it but can we just stop with expecting me to just retweet your promotional stuff or giveaway?

Blogging Etiquette: 7 ways to annoy friends in social media

18. Don’t mass-message people.

“When someone sends a Facebook message to you and 30 other people and you’re constantly getting replies from a ton of people you probably don’t know … I feel all popular, like I’m getting all these personal messages, but that’s not the case at all!”

— Christina Schroeter, Family of the Year, quoted in 10 social media pet peeves from SXSW musicians

19. Link to sources.

If you quote someone, you need to link. If you’re only quoting a small section from another blogger’s post, you don’t need their permission to do so. However, you should link back to their original post. Not only is this proper blog etiquette, but it can also be used to your advantage.

The 5 Rules of Blog Etiquette

20. Invite with care.

Don’t send friends invitations without a proper introduction – they don’t know who you are in most cases and they shouldn’t guess.

Social media net etiquette: good behavior applies here too

21. Friends are optional.

You’re not obligated to follow/friend anyone. No matter what. Not even your mother.

Chris Brogan, an Insider’s Guide to Social Media Etiquette

22. Don’t creep.

Please don’t follow people around on the social Web like a lost puppy. It really is rather creepy. Unless you’re best buds, no one wants to see you not only on Facebook and Twitter but also on all of their niche social sites ranging from crocheting to auto body repair.

Social Media Etiquette: 20 Dos and Don’ts to Avoid Looking Like An Ass

23. Don’t tag your friends’ (bad) photos.

Not everybody can look attractive from every angle but that doesn’t mean you should take this opportunity to highlight the angle that doesn’t work. Even worse is that you continue to tag everybody else that’s in the unattractive photo so that it can be circulated among all our friends. If you want to quickly damage your relationship, go find the most unattractive photo of your friend and tag them in it. Don’t be surprised when you end up unfriended for doing it!

How to violate Facebook etiquette and piss off your friends

24. Don’t be an egomaniac.

If you have a business, a blog,  or something you are selling, promote OTHERS more than you promote yourself. The rule of thumb is 10:1. For every one thing you say to promote yourself you should say 10 things NOT about yourself.

Social Media Etiquette/Netiquette on Fauxology

25. Don’t confuse strategy with netiquette.

Interestingly, many of the recent blog posts I read on social media “netiquette” are more accurately described as guidance on social media strategy. Strategy is about achieving a communications, business or organizational goal (like getting people to like or talk about your brand). Netiquette is about being considerate of other people in a way that supports a healthy ecosystem of conversation. When we confuse strategy with netiquette we lose sight of our interest in being respectful to people as a consideration that ought to outweigh any other commercial or operational goal.


Some netiquette rules are still written in pencil. Some of the  netiquette “rules” I discovered in my travels are recommendations I either disagree with, or see violated regularly. For example:

Use a different profile or account for your personal connections. Business and pleasure do not mix in this medium.

Top 12 Rules of Social Media Etiquette

The Off-limits Rule. Opinions on politics, religion, personal attacks, and controversial subjects that could cause embarrassment to others should not be put on the public Internet. When in doubt, don’t. You will lose friends and followers quickly.

Top 10 Rules of Netiquette for Social Media

Your mobile phone isn’t an accessory. While on a date or in a business meeting,  it’s not polite nor smart to place it on the table. Save your tweets and texts for later.

Rules of Netiquette

Rules like these offer a useful reminder that netiquette, and especially social media netiquette, is far from written in stone. This is a new world, and we’re inventing the rules together. Let’s try not to get so outraged when we discover some people are playing by a different rulebook.

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