They Called Me an Idiot! A Review of Web Etiquette
Recently I received an email from someone who had read one of my
articles online. This reader told me that, while reading my
article, she had noticed that I had used "their" where I needed
"they're." A simple mistake, but one that could have been
avoided with a little better proofreading on my part. I would
have been pleased to receive this reminder to be more astute,
but the message didn't stop there. The reader went on to call
me, among other things, an idiot.
Now we all make mistakes, and we all have our pet peeves. (Mine
happens to be dawdlers.) Clearly this reader's peeve is the
mixing up of homonyms, and my mistake made me a criminal in her
eyes. Thus, hidden behind the anonymity of email, she attacked.
As a frequently published author, I am used to criticism, and
always open to a reminder to pay more attention, even if that
reminder stings a little at the time. I am not, however, nor do
I think I will ever be, open to being called an idiot. Was I
upset by this person? Mildly. Do I think there's a problem with
web etiquette in general? Absolutely. The insulting reader
wasn't doing anything different than so many other
self-appointed web critics do all the time.
The basic problem with web etiquette lies in the inherent
anonymity of e-correspondence. The fact that we can't see
someone, or hear their voice, does not entitle us to treat them
rudely. Anonymity makes us bold, and some of us tend to forget
our manners when sending emails or posting on discussion boards.
I have a feeling that if this reader had been speaking to me
face to face the word "idiot" would never have been invoked.
Think about it, when dealing with mistakes or service problems
in person, we always try to be polite while still getting our
point across, right? That is a basic social rule, but one that
has been all but thrown away on the web. I have read atrocious
things online that I believe never would have been spoken aloud
had the people involved been in the same room together.
Let's try to bring good old fashioned manners to the web. When
composing an email involving a complaint or a correction, write
it as though you will be reading it aloud to the person you're
writing to. Yes, you want to get your point across, but do so
without being nasty. When posting on a discussion board, try to
keep a conversational, even-tempered tone, even if someone has
attacked your statement or question. Rise above the situation
and keep things polite and decorous. If we all remember our
manners, the web can be a much friendlier, and more professional