Scott Steinberg on Manners for the Digital World

The good news is that digital connections have brought us closer. That's also the bad news as the merging of our work, school, and personal lives raises a new and very complicated set of issues around who sees what. Protecting privacy, staying safe, demonstrating professionalism, and responding to views or behavior you might prefer not to have seen can all be difficult. In his new book, Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World, Scott Steinberg provides thoughtful guidance for navigating the challenges of social media. He answered my questions about what to share, when to check your email, and whether to friend your boss on Facebook.

Is it ever appropriate to check your email in the middle of a conversation with someone? At a meal with other people?

As a general rule, devices should be put away when in shared company, and ringers and message sound notifications turned off during gatherings, meetings, and other get-togethers. If you cannot avoid having to take an important email, text, or call while you're engaging with others, it's best to politely excuse yourself from the occasion for a moment to do so. If you are unable to excuse yourself, and must email or utilize a high-tech device in their presence, it's recommended that you turn away from the device when others address you to maintain ongoing attention and eye contact during conversations.2017-02-06-1486404634-3654568-NetiquetteCOVER.jpg

Are there any limits to reposting or retweeting on social media?

If you're going to repost or retweet, it's best to add something original to the conversation as well, such as a unique opinion or insight - however, it's best to keep any such communications positive or thoughtful in tone, as negativity seldom reflects well on the poster. You'll also want to think twice before like or supporting status updates surrounding controversial topics or viewpoints: They may be viewed by others as an endorsement of these subjects.

What should you consider before posting photos of friends on social media?

You'll want to consider how others may perceive these images, and what message they send to the viewer about the individual being portrayed in the photo - remember, people often take things at face value. It's also important to be respectful of others' privacy as well and not post or tag them in photos without seeking permission in advance. All images should be upright and respectful, and you should always err on the side of caution if you're uncertain how others may interpret them: Context is often lost online, and even fun and goofy shots of friends may send the wrong message to the beholder.

Should you friend your work colleagues on Facebook? Your boss?

Prior to connecting with coworkers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other services, let alone your supervisor, ask yourself a simple question: Would I still want to be connected to them if we were no longer colleagues? You also have to consider whether the material you share online will be appropriate for them to read or view - anything you wouldn't say at the office shouldn't be said online either. Don't forget to take into account if connecting with them will expose you or they to information or influences that make someone uncomfortable. After all, your boss may not share your passion for pet spiders or the soothing sounds of death metal.

Should dating couples confer before switching their "relationship status" on Facebook?
As a general rule, it's best to chat with your significant other before posting changes in relationship status on social networks. Of course, it's also bad form to post relationship drama publicly or break up with someone online as well. Note that choosing the equivalent of "It's Complicated" is unlikely to send a positive message or create a welcoming impression to viewers either.

Should you "un-friend" someone for making offensive comments? For political differences?

The decision to un-friend is a personal one, and a question of individual comfort level. But one thing that may be important to note is that things can easily be misinterpreted online, and thoughts taken out of context. If you have questions, or dissenting opinions, perhaps it's simply best to have a healthy, constructive conversation in real-life about the topic, rather than jump to conclusions or assume the worst about the situation.

Is there any way to keep social media comments or revealing photos/sexts private?

It's safe to assume that anything posted online - even if you believe it to be private - has the potential to become public at any time.

Should parents of teens and tweens make it clear that they have the right to monitor the social media and texting? How can parents demonstrate good judgement and manners in the digital world to their children?

Yes - ideally, education surrounding positive ways to utilize technology and comport oneself online, and discussions to this effect, will begin taking place early on in a child's life, and kids' given the chance to become comfortable with their parents' presence as trusted online guides. This doesn't mean constantly having to spy on kids - simply reminding them that you are involved and aware. As for teaching good judgment and manners, it's a matter of leading by example: We can teach good digital citizenship by modeling the behaviors we wish to ingrain, including making a point to always be kind, respectful to, and empathetic of others.

Do you recommend a "digital diet" to limit the use of devices?

Balance in real-life and high-tech interactions is key - knowing when to power down devices is as important as knowing when to power them off. Kids can benefit form being given screen time limits, and both adults and children should take regular technology breaks during the day, and be aware of times (e.g. dinner, shared family time, an hour before going to bed, etc.) when devices should be put away.

Should emails end with a sign-off like "Sincerely" or "Best wishes?"

Traditional etiquette holds in the e-mail realm as well - while it's not necessary to be as formal with wording here as with written letters, a personable and engaging sign-off does come recommended, as politeness and sincerity never go out of style.

Are "please" and "thank you" important in digital communications?

Yes - every bit as much as in traditional communications, as tone of voice, body language, and context are often lost in the translation to text. It never hurts to be respectful, and mind your Ps and Qs.