Online communities, such as MySpace and Facebook, provide an outlet for discussion, debate and networking. There is a myriad of ways to connect to other people within the online world. However, the ability to communicate without seeing the recipient can often lead individuals to say and do things they would not do in an offline setting.
To enjoy the benefits of being in an online community, try to follow these tips.
Maintain anonymity. Do not reveal your address or telephone number. Most online communities have a private message system, which allows you to send personal messages to individual community members rather than posting for the entire community. Thus, you can reveal more personal information in a private email to an individual community member.
Never post anything in an online community you do not want to see repeated. Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and the Executive Director of www.WiredSafety.org states, “don’t post anything you do not want your mother or boss to see.” What you write in an online community lives on forever. Though Web sites may go down, someone may copy your post to their personal computer and then forwarded the post on to others. Melissa from North Carolina, a member of an online community, experienced this situation firsthand. She posted a vent about problems with her neighbors in an online community. Someone within the online community sent to the post to her neighbors! This post created further friction between she and her neighbors with whom she already had a strained relationship.
Be courteous even when you disagree. Everyone has a valuable opinion. However, be aware: everyone will not agree with your opinion. Debate and disagreement is healthy, however, debates should be conducted in a courteous and noncombative manner. Name-calling, derogatory remarks and other unbecoming behaviors are not conducive ways to show disagreement with someone’s opinion. Aftab states one should “follow the golden rule … treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”
Be supportive and congratulatory. Online communities, just like “real life” communities, offer support and encouragement to each other. When members reveal achievements, disappointments or tragedies, you can offer sincere words of encouragement so they feel the support of their online community. Be cognitive of the fact that one day you may need support and encouragement for yourself.
Maintain confidences gained while in the community. If someone tells you something personal in nature, do not reveal this in the online communities unless you get the approval of the person. Developing meaningful friendships and relationships in online communities is great, however, like any relationship, lack of trust can destroy the connection. So, as Aftab states, “do not blab secrets online.”
Watch your tone. Written word often sounds different than spoken word. Some tones, especially sarcasm, do not translate well in written word. Try to read aloud your message prior to posting to ensure your tone does not seem condescending or hurtful.
Do not take everything personally. Being a member of an online community can be a wonderful experience; however, ruffled feathers can make the experience less than ideal. When someone makes a comment seemingly directed at you, try to respond in an inquiring rather than accusatory manner. The poster may not have it meant the post in the manner in which you took it.
Honor your online community. Membership has its privileges. Being a member of an online community is a privilege; so do not take your membership lightly. Your membership can be revoked for unbecoming behavior, such as name-calling, profanity and lewd remarks. Some online communities ban members temporarily for this type of behavior, while others invoke a permanent ban for unbecoming behavior. Do not allow a momentary lapse in judgment or anger prevent you from being part of an online community.
Maintain real-life connections. Devoting tremendous amounts of time to online communities can detract from your ability to connect with “real” people one-on-one. Limit the amount of time you spend online and try to stick to the limitation. If your online community is in your local area, arrange to meet some of your online friends offline for coffee, lunch or dinner. Face-to-face contact is important.
Have fun. Being a member of an online community can be a great experience. You have the opportunity to interact with people from different parts of the world who may have different perspectives. This interaction will help broaden your horizons. As Barbara Boudreaux, a Facebook user from Louisiana, states, “it’s a wonderful tool to reconnect with high school and foreign friends” with whom she wouldn’t otherwise keep contact.
Thus, online communities provide an opportunity to connect to those who share similar interests. Take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of an online community but participate in a safe and responsible manner.
Satyra Riggins is a freelance writer in Charlotte, NC. Satyra is a member of several online communities. When not online or writing, Satyra is a mother of two and a paralegal at a law firm in Charlotte. If you have any questions about this article, please contact Satyra at firstname.lastname@example.org.