Bernie Goldbach in Clonmel | Image from Contact Sheet
WE HAD AN OLD "How to Make Friends by Telephone" booklet in the attic of the family home, packed in a box next to our first house phone. It offered advice about courtesy and civility that deserves consideration of online peeps today.
Back when the phone was first hooked up, party lines were being phased out. One of the tips in the phone booklet advised keeping conversation polite and not to descend into rude comments. (You could hear up to four parties at a time on a party line.)
On Twitter, you can hear thousands of people at a time, spouting off little comments that can be easily misunderstood, taken out of context, or replayed in a sequence to suggest a pattern of opinion. That's Twitter and although I know that part of Twitter's charm is its unbridled nature, there comes a time when the community needs to simply row in with a modicum of decorum. You could refer to the 1940s information leaflet from Ma Bell for that.
Where I work, we want to graduate creative multimedia developers who won't get their job prospects deflated by something they said or did online. We have pages of examples that show coarse language, wind-ups, defamatory statements, sexist links and just plain rude behaviour, proving Twitter is often a cesspit as well as a honeypit for effective networking. I have a personal opinion about how Twitter should be used and my personal terms of engagement don't condone sticking a knife in someone by using sharp invective.
I've always thought that if you have standing online, you owe it to yourself to treat others with consideration and respect. To me, that means behaving politely, calmly and reasonably, even during heated debates. It means steering clear of gross profanity and not belittling people.
Since permitting Twitter to run on my mobile phone in December 2006, I've endured incivility on Twitter in the form of personal attacks, rudeness, disrespectful comments, taunting, baiting, and aggressive behaviours. I just unfollow the perps and life goes on. When I train people new to social networks, I tell them that the muck online is the same in the real world. You just learn what to avoid and trust your judgment.
We try to train students to improve their online levels of engagement. When we do, it's not unusual to hear mature students blow back when told what they can and cannot say on social networks. Since we assess social media skills in a third level academic module, we can lay down the ground rules and force compliance. But in the rough and ready world of Twitter today, the only constraints are community-based. And those community standards are not established to favour a positive, productive working environment where a higher level of civility is expected.
And so I file my protip on civility under the category of "best practise", intending to talk about what I think during a half-day Protips for Effective Online Networking with the Clonmel Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 in LIT-Clonmel.