Behave! Etiquette is online.

In a meeting last week, a colleague made a comment about following proper ‘netiquette’. The large part of my experience with the internet showed that the norm in blogs and comments is to berate someone for simple errors, verbally assault anyone you don’t agree with, ridicule positions that are not extreme, or write offensive and irrelevant statements and stereotypes. Is ‘netiquette’, I asked, a word that permits otherwise inexcusable public behaviour, simply because it happens on the ‘net’ and not on the street?

In fact, ‘netiquette’ is exactly what it sounds like – etiquette on the internet. There is a long and established history of ‘netiquette’ conversations, dating back to the early days of the internet. Not only has the word been around for years, it is sufficiently common that a 2007 YouGov poll identified ‘netiquette’ one of the most hated internet words. And despite this, I had never even heard the word.

Like much that is ‘digital’, the basics of ‘netiquette’ are no different than its non-digital ancestor. However, the digital medium requires some flexibility and adaptation to new norms. For example, ’emoticons’. These contorted compositions of punctuation marks frighten me. If the Light Brigade charged off to its death at Sebastopol because of improper punctuation in Lord Raglan’s orders to Lord Lucan (or so says Cecil Woodham-Smith in “The Reason Why”), then imagine the consequences of a mis-constructed emoticon. Also, the use of CAPITALS seems to be especially offensive to the eyes. Many guides remind e-mailers and bloggers that anything written, blogged, hosted and transmitted on the internet is public. Anyone can see it, including your mother, so it is important that you are comfortable with anyone reading what you write.

CNN provides useful and concise list of ways to mind your netiquette. So does CNet. There are even netiquette guidelines in French, veuillez agréer Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués.

Many MEPs are looking to the elections in 2009, and those considering a blog to connect with their constituents would do well to follow the guidelines of proper (n)etiquette.