Electronic text allows one to copy, forward, reply, and send messages to multiple recipients quickly and easily. Because these activities are possible with such minimal effort, people often forget to proofread their work, or consider who will actually read the message. It is not uncommon for the sender to regret clicking on the "send" button so soon. Read Katie Hafner's article for more examples of e-mail mishaps and the controversy surrounding certain e-mail functions. Lawrence Magid discusses some of these issues as they relate to instant messaging.
Some people fall into the habit of writing their messages in all capital letters, unaware that this is known as shouting among the netiquette-minded. While doing this may elicit a response of PDS (please don't shout), it is unlikely to result in the expulsion from a chat room or from one's Internet service provider. Use of objectionable language, however, is grounds for removal from some areas of cyberspace. Read Susan Aschoff's article for more information.
Under certain conditions, rude and insulting e-mail is acceptable, mainly in chat rooms. This is a long-standing tradition known as flaming, and as long as it remains under control, it can be an entertaining and stimulating experience for participants. Virginia Shea's book provides a good overview of netiquette, including flaming and other Internet behaviors.
Aschoff examines some of the established rules of communicating on the Internet and the consequences of breaking those rules. Examples of bad manners include poor spelling, typing in all uppercase letters ("shouting"), repeatedly sending the same message to a recipient's instant message program, and cc'ing a message to a long list of people who aren't interested in the conversation. Taboos vary from one chat room to the next; emoticons like :-) are frequently shunned. More serious offenses include the use of objectionable language on hosts such as Geocities and AOL. Offenders may receive a simple warning, or be "gagged," "killed," or "banned." Gagging occurs when the offender sees his or her comments on the chat room screen, but nobody else does. Killing blocks the offender out of the chat room, while banning kicks the offender off the service altogether.
Appending Aschoff's article is a dictionary of emoticons and common
acronyms used in e-mail correspondence. For example:
This brief article discusses the use of e-mail to promulgate hate messages at university and college campuses. It notes a case at the University of California, Irvine that is the first incident of e-mail being used to promulgate hate mail that the Federal Government is prosecuting. This case is unusual because universities are usually reluctant to see people punished for the content of the messages they send because of free speech issues. E-mail has joined the ranks of methods of communication that may be used for good or ill, depending on the messages sent, and how they are interpreted by the recipients. The author notes that while e-mail has become a popular communication tool, a survey at a "large, mid-Atlantic university" suggests that e-mail is not used any more than other mediums for harrassment.
Hafner discusses e-mail etiquette in a historical context, giving a brief background and an in-depth analysis of current trends. She provides comprehensive coverage of e-mail features such as reply, forward, cc, bcc, and redirect. The greatest controversy surrounds the bcc (blind carbon copy) function. One quoted source claims, "Bcc should be illegal. It's like recording a call without informing the other party." Another says, "Bcc's the best thing in the world. A note to someone seems a lot less personal when there are 10 other names in the Cc field."
The hazards of other e-mail functions are also addressed. Replying to more recipients than one intends is a common mistake. Even when the reply to all function is used as intended, it can precipitate an avalanche of argumentative e-mail, disrupting productivity. People have also accidentally forwarded messages to recipients who are described unkindly lower in the text.
"The etiquette of e-mail," Hafner observes, "is still in its formative stages." While some conventions are gaining wide acceptance, this article clearly implies that people are still getting used to e-mail, both individually and as a society.
This transcript is of a conversation with a lawyer, A. Johnson, who is a law professor at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, and a writer in the field of cyberspace, D. Bennahum. Bennnahm is a contributing editor to "Wired" Magazine and the author of Extra-Life: Coming of Age in Cyberspace. They discuss various challenges and trade-offs involved in using e-mail, including "questions of etiquette, legality and business practice." Johnson stresses the importance of being careful of what we say in e-mail and how we say it. She reminds us that e-mail is ultimately, not a private communication, and unlike the telephone does leave something akin to a paper trail. Another concept that is mentioned is the confusion about appropriate use of e-mail engendered by the intimate feel of e-mail, combined with the tremendous broadcast capability.
Magid discusses the challenges of using instant messaging. He offers some suggestions for ways to use it that may minimize the annoyance that can be caused, for example, if a person is summoned for a chat at an inconvenient time. He addresses issues such as the Buddy List, privacy issues, and the difference between using instant messaging for work or for personal use. Most of his suggestions are fairly common sense, and some of them are similar to those techniques that can be use to minimize the intrusiveness of the telephone. A couple of examples are starting a message by asking if the person has a moment to chat, and taking the hint that it's time to sign off when a person says he or she has "gotta go". Magid also notes that some instant message programs allow you designate who can see that you're on-line.
Netiquette is a comprehensive investigation of the issue of etiquette in cyberspace. Shea discusses her topic at a level "newbies" (those new to the Internet) can understand, while presenting rules for online courtesy that even the most experienced Netizens should review. She discusses flaming (rude and insulting e-mails - an Internet tradition), chain letters, mail bombing, legal issues, and various rules of netiquette for the workplace, school, and home.
Shea establishes ten "Core Rules of Netiquette" as follows:
Turner talks about the phenomenon of "disinhibition": the anonymous nature of computer-mediated communications leading to lowered inhibitions. These lowered inhibitions can result in hasty messages, confrontational tones, and the simulated intensity of online romances. E-mail is especially susceptible to disinhibition, because it is fast and easy to send. This makes it very easy to send a message before fully thinking through the consequences. The article quotes a psychologist who discusses the phenomenon and its effects.