Online Etiquette for the New Normal

phone and computer viewing social media

In all the places we’ve lived, I’ve never really been one to join the neighborhood Facebook group.

view of neighborhood
Photo by Shona Corsten for Unsplash

Then we moved overseas and lived off base in a community where I did not speak the language. It was pretty much a necessity for me to join the local “wives” group—not just for the restaurant and playground suggestions—but as it turned out, for all sorts of useful information. It’s great to know when local festivals occur, but it was even more valuable to find out which streets had power after a large typhoon hit our island. 

When we moved back to the States, I figured it was time I joined our neighborhood page. Like all of these groups, the moderator tried to keep the peace. Well, until we entered the quarantine this spring. To accommodate the increasing number of posts, the need for post-approval was removed. 

As posts flooded in about TP and neighbors offering to sew masks for our local essential workers, the dialogue was cordial. People seemed to genuinely want to help one another. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that this tone has shifted as people get more anxious about staying home. 

At a time when our lives have had to become more virtual, I’d like to offer some gentle, online etiquette reminders about Facebook and social media in general. Not a sermon, just a thought. 

The Golden Rule Still Applies

It’s an oldie but a goodie: remember to treat others as you’d like to be treated. Just the other day, I saw a post from a woman at dinner. She took a picture of her order in support of a local, small restaurant. She was trying to promote them by highlighting the generous portion size. Apparently, that was a good time for a neighbor to remind the group that many people don’t have any food and that this person was even luckier to have an abundance. Aside from missing the point of the original post, it led me to wonder whether this reply would be appreciated if the roles were reversed. Maybe we should all try to put the shoe on the other foot especially right now. 

If you have nothing nice to say…

We tell our kids this all the time. If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. It’s pretty basic, but I’ve noticed this a lot especially when it comes to my neighborhood’s HOA. If you’ve got a problem with the landscaping or the pool hours, go to the source or just zip your lips. Don’t sit on the group page and berate the decisions of the board. Go to the meeting where your voice can be heard or give the management company a call. This is in keeping with rule three…

Stay Above the Fray

I’ve noticed this often in political posts, but egging on nasty comments seems to have crept into all sorts of social media these days. I recently saw someone criticizing a neighbor’s barking dog. A perfect example of when rules one and two would apply. The thing that struck me, though, was how the post was then inundated with commenters’ GIFs with people holding popcorn and saying how they were enjoying “the show,” alluding to the ping pong between angry people replying to the original post and other responses. If we’re supposed to discourage cyberbullying in our children, why is it okay for adults to do it?  

woman holding coffee and typing on computer

Remember – you’re not anonymous

Unlike some groups, your neighborhood group is not just a virtual community. Remember you live there in real life. You’re bound to see one of these people at the bus stop, walking their dog, or up at the pool. Most people use their real names; even if you do use a pseudonym, your pictures can usually be viewed by other members of the private group. Maybe your neighbors won’t care enough to connect the dots, but is that a chance you’re willing to take just to go on a rant about kids running through the communal grass space? 

As we attempt to maintain our civility at a time when our civilization looks very, very different, please remember these four common courtesy rules. And remember that sometimes it’s best to leave things unsaid. 



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