Digital Literacy: Computer Skills, Netiquette & Internet Safety

Netiquette is a set of unofficial rules for good behavior and politeness followed by users of online and digital technologies such as the Internet, email, and chatrooms. Netiquette is derived from the word "etiquette," which refers to the general rules or conventions of correct and polite behaviour in social settings and situations. It is thus the practice of exercising polite and considerate behaviour in online contexts, such as Internet discussion boards and personal email.

Email is an important form of communication that is used in multiple contexts, from professional to personal. DO follow these rules and guidelines for proper email netiquette:

Composing Email

  • Include a subject line, a proper opening and a closing line
  • Know your audience - for formal emails to colleagues or prospective employers, use polite and professional language
  • Be concise and proofread the text to make sure there are no grammatical or spelling mistakes

Sending and Responding to Email

  • Address all of the sender's questions or concerns
  • Confirm that the email of the recipient is correct
    • Be careful using the Reply to All button
    • If necessary, protect privacy of recipients by using the blind carbon copy (bcc) field

DON'T make these mistakes:

  • Writing in capital letters that MAKE IT SEEM LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING
  • Opening emails or attachments from unknown or suspicious senders
  • Overusing the priority, high importance or receipt settings
  • Sending or forwarding personal or private information without the original sender's consent
  • Including unnecessary information or diverging from the purpose of the email
  • Using emoticons or abbreviations i.e. :) or "lol" unless writing informally to friends or family
  • Subscribing to unknown distribution lists

Nothing is private on the Internet and many sites have the ability to archive or store your information. Your "digital footprint" is the data that you leave behind after interacting in online environments such as social media websites or discussion boards. Be cautious of personal material and information that is posted online by yourself or others. This is important as employers are increasingly using social media to evaluate and find potential employees.

When using social media websites, you should:

  • Check the privacy settings on websites such as Facebook
  • Confirm that your profile information is accessible only to the extent you choose
  • Do not accept people you do not know as "friends" on social media websites
  • Be careful when interacting or sharing information with other Internet users
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The Core Rules of Netiquette by Virginia Shea

The following 10 rules and reminders for online communication and behaviour have been summarized from Virginia Shea's book, Netiquette.

Rule 1: Remember the human 

Remember that behind every screen is a human being with independent thoughts and feelings. It is easy to misunderstand or be rude to others when you are not interacting with them in person. Before clicking send or post, ask yourself: Would you say it to the person's face?

Rule 2: Adhere to the same standards of behavior as in "real life"

This rule is a reminder that the ethical standards and laws that govern our society extend to cyberspace as well. This includes harrassment and bullying, copyright regulations, and privacy.

Rule 3: Know where you are in cyberspace

Different environments require different behaviour. The way we interact with our friends, for example, may not be acceptable in a school or work situation. This principle extends to online environments as well. Comments that are acceptable on Facebook, for instance, may be considered inappropriate on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn.

Rule 4: Respect other people's time and bandwidth

In this rule, "bandwidth" is synonymous with "time." When you send and email or post on a discussion board, keep your comments brief and relevant to the environment or situation.

Rule 5: Make yourself look good online

There are many positive aspects about the Internet, including the ability to remain anonymous. This rule is a reminder not to allow this aspect of the Internet influence how you communicate. Pay attention to your grammar, spelling and word choices as well as the overall content and truthfulness of your writing, as this is what others are using to judge you.

Rule 6: Share expert knowledge

The Internet is a great platform for sharing good information. However, it can also be used to spread misinformation and distortions. If you hold a lot of knowledge about a certain topic or subject, don't be afraid to share it online in a manner that is helpful and accurate.

Rule 7: Help keep flame wars under control

"Flaming" refers to verbal disagreements that occur between users in contexts such as message boards. They are often a result of strongly held opinions and emotions. As in rule 4, do not monopolize online discussion with long or offensive commentary.  

Rule 8: Respect other people's privacy

The Internet is an open forum. Remember not to share information about others that could get them -- or yourself -- into trouble, both personally and professionally.

Rule 9: Don't abuse your power

This rule is intended for those who carry more power on the Internet as experts, designers, system administrators or even hackers. Power should always be used responsibly and not to harm or take advantage of those who are less powerful or knowledgeable.

Rule 10: Be forgiving of other people's mistakes

Give other users the benefit of the doubt and consider that they may come from a different background or have less experience on the Internet. Do not be rude when you encounter someone's mistake -- always respond with courteousy and respect.