Monday, March 11, 2013

Netiquette Primer: Tell Your Own Story

I like hearing a good story or two, as do most folk.  But just like real life, when you are writing online you need to remember to tell your own story.

I cannot stress the importance of this.  Unless you have been asked to help disseminate information on someone's behalf, such as the status of a person in surgery, what you post needs to be about you, your actions, your thoughts, your opinions, and your behaviors.  Yes, you can mention other people, but only in relation to you.

While in real life, telling another person's story is considered gossip, the consequence online is more severe.  Every time a name is mentioned online, that person's digital footprint grows.  So if you gossip online, you not only expand your digital footprint but also the other person's digital footprint.  Parents are particularly bad at this, as we tend to want to either brag about our kids' latest accomplishments or get sympathy for their latest growing stage (such as the terrible twos).  But every story we post about our kids creates a digital footprint for them and might cause them either embarrassment or humiliation as they grow older.

To illuminate this point, let us assume that a mother calls her toddler a "honey badger" online because he is going through a particularly stubborn phase, going so far as to write "Honey badger don't care" as a caption under the toddler sleeping someplace other than his bed, or making a face at the camera while pouring milk over his head.

Said toddler knows nothing about this, but what happens when he grows up?  What will he think when he sees these pictures and captions?  What will his friends think?  Chances are he'll get teased at least a little bit over postings he didn't approve of.  And, taking this a bit farther, what if his teachers learn about this?  How long will this toddler need to explain behaviors he had that predate his living memory?

Sadly, kids everywhere are developing digital footprints via their parents' blogs, status updates, and comments.  And remember, the Internet is forever.  So these footprints will follow these kids into their adult lives.

But parents and kids are only one source of not telling your own story.  I read people complaining about their significant others, and I wonder if they would say these things to their partner's face.  I wonder how many relationships are ruined because it's easier to tell a bunch of strangers what you feel instead of telling the person who needs to know.  I wonder how many friendships end because a private comment gets posted in a public forum.

So remember, tell your own story, and let other people tell their own.

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