The Internet's veneer of anonymity sometimes lulls the unwary cyberspace traveler into releasing his or her alter-ego online: you know—that impolite, self-righteous, sometimes even violent brute most of us try to restrain or even to completely root out of our "real" lives.
Unfortunately it's far too easy to forget there are human beings on the receiving end of all our communications, even the ones that leave our fingertips to go sailing out over the Web into the great, invisible unknown. When we do forget this important point, however, we place ourselves in danger of injuring all kinds of important relationships, and I don't mean just those casual internet acquaintances.
As tempting as it may be to assume we can safely maintain different personas on and offline, the reality is that we can't. A relationship habit formed online is sure to bleed over into our offline relationships eventually, because—as human beings—we are creatures of habit.
But an online reputation is important for other reasons as well. Suppose a future employer—or even that gorgeous girl next door—Googles your name one day. What past conversations might the search engine turn up for their eyes that would be better left unseen?
Naturally, the best policy to adopt is the one that says "If I wouldn't do this face-to-face, I shouldn't do it online either." But for those whose offline relationships also need help, perhaps some good sources of "netiquette" advice are warranted.
Here are just a few:
The Art and Mystery of Online Etiquette by Dale Van Eck, Associate Producer Education Technology, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
A Parent's Guide to Etiquette on the Net by Maria Georgiou of Kids Domain.
There's an Angry Fire in Cyberspace This article by Andrew Campbell examines some internet behavior to be avoided at all costs.Netiquette by Virginia Shea. The most comprehensive etiquette guide available on the Internet.