Internet ethics reflect the ethics of the wider society in which the Internet is used. Ethical online behaviour is referred to as "good netiquette". The term 'netiquette' is derived from two words: 1) Internet; 2) Etiquette. Etiquette is defined as a "code of polite behaviour in society and social groups". The Internet is a system of computer networks which voluntarily interconnect through the use of the Internet protocol suite. Therefore, it becomes clear that netiquette is a code of polite behaviour that users engage in when they use computer networks connected to the Internet.
From 1966-1992, the Internet was largely comprised of computer networks which were funded by the federal government of the United States. In the 1970's, the U.S. Department of Defense funded the development of TCP/IP: TCP/IP is the software system that the networks of the Internet (interconnected networks) use to interconnect and communicate.
In 1989, the Internet Activities Board (IAB) - an organisation created in 1983 to continue the development of TCP/IP - created an RFC document (RFC 1087) titled "Ethics and the Internet" (shown below). This document outlined how the Internet was funded; the effort required to create it; and the privilege of using it:
RFC 1087 went on to state that: "access to and use of the Internet is a privilege and should be treated as such by all users of this system". Finally, the document listed five behaviours which should not be engaged in by the users of the Internet:
1) Seek to gain unauthorized access to the resources of the Internet.
2) Disrupt the intended use of the Internet.
3) Waste the resources of the Internet.
4) Destroy the integrity of Internet based information.
5) Compromise the privacy of Internet users.
The above "do not" list, authored by the most important Internet organisation of it's day, was one of the first examples of netiquette.
Etiquette - within wider society - is always changing and evolving, and, therefore, so does netiquette. What constitutes etiquette varies amongst cultures and social groups, and it is difficult to define a definitive list of netiquette which will "hold water" for all countries, cultures and social groups. However, netiquette tends to comply with the 'five pillars of ethics' provided by the Internet Activities Board (IAB) in 1989 (shown above). The Internet ethics of the IAB can be expanded upon to include the following:
Netiquette, as a term, was probably first recognized upon Usenet; one of first systems on the Internet that provided open discussion and debate. Usenet is comprised of newsgroups: where users are required to post constructive and relevant messages on a breadth of ongoing subjects. Bulletin boards, hosted on the World Wide Web, are similar in scope to Usenet, and tend to encompass a similar code of behaviour. Posting information on a different topic (off-top discussion), and commercial advertising (spam), are two examples of "bad" netiquette which can plague these social systems.
In the mid 1990's, Usenet, bulletin boards and chat rooms were the most popular "places" on the Internet where users could interact and share and exchange views. During this era of the Internet, most Internet connections were incapable of supporting instant voice and video communication. Likewise, Internet usage was beginning to increase by 1995 - prominent websites like Yahoo! and Lycos were founded in 1994. By the end of the decade, Internet usage had expanded exponentially, and broadband Internet access supported far more services.
By the year 2000, new Internet services were referred to as Web 2.0 and Voice 2.0 technologies: these services allowed far greater social interaction. Some examples of Web 2.0 and Voice 2.0 services are social networking websites - like Facebook and Twitter - and voice and video applications - like Skype. These services revolutionised how users communicated online, and also impacted how people communicated in wider society.
The importance of netiquette, therefore, has never been greater. Examples of "bad" netiquette on social networking websites - usually involving offensive remarks made to prominent persons - are often reported in the news media. Such behaviour has become so commonplace that individuals who perpertrate online harassment are referred to as: trolls.
The majority of online communication is engaged in through the use of text. The drawback with communicating through text is that: it is difficult to denote mood and convey meaning.
Emoticons are images, inserted into text communications, that help to disfuse misunderstandings and convey mood. Without the use of an emoticon, a text message may appear "cold" or aggressive.
Abbreviations are commonly used in text communication: as they help to save time and effort for commonly written phrases. However, a heavy use of abbreviation can sometimes come across as a lack of effort, and within some social interactions, an over-use of abbreviation may be viewed as childish and as bad netiquette.
Some popular abbreviations: