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
Origins of Internet Ethics
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
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
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
Expanded List 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:
- Do not: use abusive or threatening language.
- Do not: post racist, sexist, homophobic and offensive remarks.
- Do not: spam message boards or chat rooms with useless messages.
- Do not: use someone else's name and steal their identity.
- Do not: distribute material that is deemed illegal.
- Do not: try to obtain or use someone else's username or password.
- Do not: try to obtain personal information about someone.
- Do not: harasssomeone who no longer wishes to communicate.
- Do not: use bad grammar and spelling on purpose.
- Do not: share personal details of someone without their permission.
- Do not: refer to people in a derogatory way: nerd,
or a geek.
- Do not: post in capital letters, viewed as shouting, and can
How Netiquette Evolved
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
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.
Internet Grammar: Emoticons and Abbreviations
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:
- lol - Laugh Out Loud; often employed
with a smiliey
- ffs - For f***'s sake
- stfu - Shut The F*** Up
- lmao - Laughing My Ass Off
- afk - Away From Keyboard
- rofl - Roll On Floor Laughing
- omg - Oh My God
- n/a - Abbreviation for 'not applicable' and 'not
- brb - Be Right Back
- cu - See You
- imo - In My Opinion
- bbl - Be Back Later
- btw - By The Way
- g2g/gtg - Got To Go
- n00b - New User
- imho - In My Honest Opinion
- wtf - What The F***?