The importance of netiquette

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One of the more eye-opening scenes from last week's Digital Nation documentary, which aired on PBS, was the sight of Korean children collectively reciting "rules of the Internet" as part of their regular schooling.

The producers had gone to South Korea to investigate reports of Internet and gaming addiction among young people. As part of their research, they discovered a school system that appears to be light years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to educating children on how they should behave on the Internet.

Singing phrases such as "While chatting, first greet happily" and "Be careful on the keyboard", first and second graders are taught online ethics and manners well before they learn the technical skills needed to navigate the Web. 

The concept of utilizing good manners on the Internet has been referred to as "netiquette". The term was coined back in the 1990s, when blogging was in its infancy and the biggest problem most people encountered on the Internet was the occasional testy e-mail exchange!  Several authors attempted to "codify" the rules of netiquette, most notably Virginia O'Shea in her 1994 book simply titled Netiquette.

These days, teaching netiquette to school-age children isn't just confined to Asia. Several European countries have also incorporated online education into the official school calendar. As part of a European Commission initiative, Tuesday, February 9th has been designated Safer Internet Day, a program that is now marked by over 500 events in 60 countries around the world.

The theme of this year's campaign is "Think B4 U Post". The idea is to remind children and teenagers that they can take steps to control their online identity by:

  • using the privacy settings offered by social networking services;
  • selecting friends online that they can trust;
  • publishing their own photos only after thinking carefully about the potential consequences; and
  • publishing pictures of their friends only after obtaining their permission.

The emphasis on photos recognizes the role that images and video now play in so many online incidents, including cyberbullying and serious personal errors of judgment. The ever-present camera-equipped cell phone makes it especially important that young people learn to respect each people's privacy and understand the consequences of posting inappropriate material to the Web.

Hopefully, we will soon see some similar programs adopted by schools here in the United States. Netiquette and Think B4 U Post are two concepts that translate well into any language!

Do you believe netiquette should be taught in our schools? What is your child's school doing to promote safe Internet behavior? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!



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