The ABC’s of Professionalism
The Internet is the ultimate tool for inexpensive, rapid and optionally anonymous communication. With unlimited venues for expressing opinions and conducting transactions, the Internet perfectly represents the ideals of democracy and the free market.
“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” -– Winston Churchill
“The best thing about the Internet is that it makes everyone a publisher. The worst thing about the Internet is that it makes everyone a publisher.” — Unknown
The nature of the Internet puts one’s character to the test. Without the constraints of accountability (that comes from visibility) and self-control, there is little else standing in the way of verbal anarchy. If you are a blogger, you’ve certainly seen the sordid underbelly of the Internet.
When human nature and technology team up, the potential for “mischief” is astonishing.
“Bad news travels fast.” — American Proverb
“Bad news is more readily believed than good news.” — Saying
“To err is human. To really foul things up requires a computer.” — Unknown
“Statistics, extrapolations and counting by Radicati Group from August 2008 estimate the number of emails sent per day (in 2008) to be around 210 billion. — About.com <http://email.about.com/od/emailtrivia/f/emails_per_day.htm>
Stir all of this together and it is imaginable that anyone could be one click away from causing international havoc. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. But, it’s certainly possible to create a lot of trouble with a few words and a couple of clicks. Just ask the folks at Snopes.com.
Solutions to this problem must include a code of acceptable behavior. Today, that code is called Internet etiquette or “Netiquette.” Although the rules continue to change, they are still a useful baseline for measuring Internet professionalism. I’d like to introduce five principles that lay a foundation for Internet etiquette.
Principle #1 – Netiquette is for Everyone
Network etiquette, like professionalism, does not come equipped with an on/off switch. When people strive toward professionalism, their actions (including online behavior) must always be consistent with their principles.
“Don’t reserve your best behavior for special occasions. You can’t have two sets of manners, two social codes – one for those you admire and want to impress, another for those whom you consider unimportant. You must be the same to all people.” — Lillian Eichler Watson
As a professional, people will be watching you and following your lead. You have the power to influence the culture of the Internet with each email you send and each blog comment you post.
Principle #2 – Accuracy Matters
When comparing a traditional letter with email, it’s reasonable to expect some stylistic differences. However, grammar and spelling are not matters of style. Unfortunately, the trend in digital communications seems to be toward compromising quality by bludgeoning our language. However, let’s not blame the technology. There is nothing inherent in email that grants permission to ignore good grammar and accurate spelling. What has actually happened is that the proliferation of email users has simply revealed how woefully unprepared many people are to write in a professional manner. Before email, some people avoided the issue by not writing — others delegated the responsibility to a secretary. Today, most people compose and send their own email and they’re sending lots of it.
“We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.” — Robert Wilensky, speech at a 1996 conference
The quality of your writing reflects your professional image. If you don’t want to look like a monkey, use good grammar and spelling.
Principle #3 – Plagiarism is Always Wrong
Replicating things found on the Internet is so easy that the temptation to steal can be overwhelming. Plagiarism has always been wrong and digital technology does not change that moral principle. A professional respects the intellectual property of another and acts accordingly.
“I think almost every newspaper in the United States has lost circulation due to the Internet. I also think the Internet will lead to a lot of plagiarism in journalism.” — Will McDonough
Take a few minutes to review the U.S. Copyright Law with special focus on the “Fair Use” provision. Then, check out the other two resources given below:
Principle #4 – Privacy and Security Are Important
As expected, Congress, Federal regulators and the courts are all over this issue. John Perry Barlow wrote “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” presumably in response to overzealous and heavy handed governments.
“Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonwealth, our governance will emerge.” — John Perry Barlow, Excerpt from: “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”
While we wait for the legal issues get sorted out, netiquette offers some simple individual actions that can help protect your own privacy and the privacy of others. Here’s an example. When sending email to a large list or a list of people who have no relationship with one another use “Bcc.” Instead of using the “To” and “Cc” spaces where the addresses are visible to all recipients, place the email addresses in the “Bcc” space, as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Email Address Privacy Using Bcc
Principle #5 – Practice the Golden Rule
Behavior in the virtual world should reflect the same common courtesies a professional uses in real life.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” — Bible, Matthew 7:12
Specifically, this means to be polite, truthful, kind, even-tempered, thoughtful, accurate and forgiving. Not much else needs to be said.
There is considerable chaos on the Internet. Professionals need to step up and be part of the solution. To learn the specifics of netiquette, visit the following sites once a week until the rules become automatic.
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© Copyright November 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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