Netiquette - Is this term obsolete?
June 1, 2020 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Does the term netiquette seem obsolete to you? If so, can you point me to resources that say so?

In the "I can't believe I'm using a question on this vein.."

I'm taking a class in improving online teaching (which is otherwise a good class) and they keep using this word and I am having a visceral nails on a chalkboard reaction to it because, I think, having spent most of my adult life in online communities, I feel like the same etiquette largely applies both places and I feel like it makes online feel mystical but... is it just me?

Thank you.
posted by eleanna to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just took a similar class, and the term did not elicit that reaction from me. Just seemed like a mildly annoying semi-neologism; I took it in stride.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:03 PM on June 1, 2020

Best answer: I don't have the same reaction as you at all—like I'm not bothered by it and I can conceive of situations where people should behave differently online than they do in person (and certainly this happens in practice)—but as a word it definitely feels old. (Specifically it reads to me, a thirtysomething millennial, like Gen X early-adopter language.)
posted by Polycarp at 3:04 PM on June 1, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I find the distinction still useful, and I've been online since the late 80s (first BBSes, then early Internet, etc..) There are a lot of things that don't port-- USING ALL CAPS IS YELLING is a very basic one. Why one doesn't use Reply All, where your response in a non-threaded e-mail or message board belongs...

Even stuff like doxxing. In the real world, it would be very transgressive to go and look up somebody's personal information to share it deliberately to hurt them, but... it also doesn't happen in the same context it does online.

I mean, if you hate the word netiquette, totally don't use it. But I think there are a lot of subtleties to online interaction and it's a word that helps clarify that easily.
posted by headspace at 3:05 PM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, my complaint is definitely with the word itself. It reads as dated even as someone who finds the concept relevant. My gut agrees with Polycarp: I think it's an early-adopter word that now sounds dorky and weird.

If you want a source, consider Gretchen McCulloch's Because Internet. I don't know that she talks about this word specifically, though she might. But she also talks about "generations" of internet language — which cross-cut age generations, since they depend mostly on when you got online and how long you stayed there — in a way that's useful in this sort of discussion. If you want to be able to explain, "This is what I mean when I call it an early-adopter word," that's a good place to start.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:12 PM on June 1, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: In terms of sources, check the Ngram Viewer for its use in American English -- pretty much a total plummet since about 2000. Just as bad for general English which would include British, Australian, etc. This data pulls from published books which is not the end all answer, but which gives us a distinct idea of language usage.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:17 PM on June 1, 2020 [15 favorites]

I think as the internet has become more integrated into all of our lives, there's less of a distinction between "online" life and "offline" life. I do think "netiquette" has an air of when we were all talking about the "information superhighway" and such. I think it has its place but I also find it outdated.

And ha, I was just going to post the Ngram Viewer, too!
posted by darksong at 3:19 PM on June 1, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: netiquette was very important when we were all surfing the web. you didn't want to be impolite to your modem or it would make simply awful noises

anyway yes it was always a silly word and now it is as dead as the hamster dance
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:24 PM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for helping me articulate better why it feels obsolete to me: it feels very 1990s and like it is trying too hard to be cool. I think it particularly concerned me in this case (and caused a worse reaction than the usual mildly annoying) because I teach a technology course and this is being taught to a bunch of professors, many of whom consider themselves proud Luddites, who I think may then adopt the term and it may hurt their connection to students. Anyway, thank you for the resources and the pointers that I was overreacting (probably because of the state of the world today).
posted by eleanna at 3:37 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I haven't heard/read the word netiquette in a while. it's cheesy to me now whereas 25 years ago I thought it was clever and necessary but there's definitely a distinction between the types of etiquette as others have mentioned previously. I think people just refer to it as online/internet etiquette currently.
posted by simplethings at 3:38 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My daughter's in grade 3. Her teacher will often use the term to refer to how the students should be behaving during group chat or just in their online usage in general. It always feels a bit strange to read the word but there still is a distinction between our actions online and IRL. In a physical class a student could quietly chat with the person beside them, in their online lesson any comment someone posts clutters the feed and potentially distracts everyone. Online speech has a permanence that most of our IRL speech doesn't and it is good for people to be made aware of that constantly even if a term like netiquette does feel contrived.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:40 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah. If I encountered the word in a course, it would make me assume that the course material was very outdated or that the teacher hadn't been keeping up with new developments for a long time — which, in a course on online teaching, really matters. Whether or not it's still a word most people understand, they're definitely harming their credibility by using it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:50 PM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This just makes me think of the brief time when people referred to the internet as "the net" and it screams outdated to me. I agree with the answers above that the concept is still valid and should be discussed. I'd rather say something like "online etiquette" instead. Though, I'm 39 and younger students might still roll their eyes at me, I don't know.
posted by acidnova at 3:55 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There's a comedy anime called Cromartie High School that was dubbed in 2005. One skit, which unfortunately I can't find online, is about a guy who's terrible at dealing with trolls online. The funniest line is when he impotently asks the troll, "Do you even know what the word 'netiquette' means?!" So, even in 2005, "netiquette" had a reputation for being fuddy-duddy.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 4:07 PM on June 1, 2020

Best answer: The idea that the internet and "real life" are separate is outdated. It's often used to diminish young people's political engagement or how they exist socially. It's also part of the "aren't young people on their phones a lot these days, in my day you could leave your door unlocked"/digital detox movement.

Here's an example article that gets into this (and refers to it as "digital dualism", cf. "mind-body dualism"):
Throughout Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle makes the unqualified and unsupported assumption that real conversation, connection, and personhood must happen without the screen. She refuses to understand digital connection as itself human and part of this world, seeing it instead as an appendage of the separate, virtual world of machines and robots. This frames digitality as inherently antihuman, pitting society and technology as opposites. Her digital dualism is plain when she describes how we have “used technology to create a second nature, an artificial nature,” or when she discusses a “world of screens,” or when she laments “the pull of the online world” away from the real world of humans. “We turn to our phones instead of each other,” she says, as though our phones do not contain each other. She worries that online, “we are tempted to present ourselves as we would like to be,” as if such virtuality and self-presentation hasn’t always been basic to the traditional “real” world of human bodies.

Digital dualism allows Turkle to write as though she is championing humanity, conversation, and empathy when ultimately she is merely privileging geography. Again, this can feel intuitive, because this fetishization of contiguity has a long tradition and is echoed in our everyday language: Each time we say “IRL,” “face-to-face,” or “in person” to mean connection without screens, we frame what is “real” or who is a person in terms of their geographic proximity rather than other aspects of closeness — variables like attention, empathy, affect, erotics, all of which can be experienced at a distance. We should not conceptually preclude or discount all the ways intimacy, passion, love, joy, pleasure, closeness, pain, suffering, evil and all the visceral actualities of existence pass through the screen. “Face to face” should mean more than breathing the same air.
I can see how the use of "netiquette" might feel like part of this reactionary boomer bullshit, and in some cases it probably is. In other cases it's you're probably just dealing with the kind of dork who still says "interwebs" and "surfing the web". And in other cases it may actually serve a useful purpose (e.g. when it's used to draw a distinction between things that are considered impolite online but not elsewhere).
posted by caek at 4:13 PM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think "netiquette" is outdated in a way that renders it quaint though the meaning is clear.

10, 20 years ago the novelty of online communications meant those experiencing it were navigating a new space with new rules, and that arguably justified a new word.

Now online communications are so common and interwoven with ordinary ones that I think one may simply say "etiquette" and people will apply the lesson online as well as face to face. To be specific someone explaining a concept may use specific terminology like "in this online community, the convention is..." or "online discussions may use these terms."

We've moved past internet-scale rules because the internet has overtaken "real" life at the same time as it has rather kaleidoscopically divided into many sub-communities with their own rules worth examining at that level.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:28 PM on June 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: similar to ngram, here's its google trend page, which covers the last 16 years.

The numbers are relative, rather than absolute, but it clearly shows that the term is losing popularity. (Though there are routine spikes at certain times of the year. interseting.)
posted by itesser at 4:31 PM on June 1, 2020

Best answer: I wouldn't be bothered by the usage, since I've been part of online communities since 1986, starting with Usenet and local talk sessions. It would make me think of the 80s and 90s, along the lines of Brad Templeton's "Emily Postnews" satire.

New forms of communication inevitably bring with them questions of how far existing social conventions apply to them. This Ars Technica article comments on similar issues in the first few decades of telephones.

I wouldn't go as far in dismissing the difference between digitally mediated and F2F communications as the author of the article quoted above by caek. Our primary socialization is into small, face to face communities. It's how we learn as children to relate to other people, and while most of us are now secondarily socialized to digitally mediated interactions, we still have strong preferences and habits related to primary socialization (while recognizing that there's a wide range of variation in our experiences). Think of the relative frequency of flamewars online vs. shouting matches in F2F contexts.

A final thought: if the audience for the course consists primarily of people whose experience with online interaction is relatively limited, I can see "netiquette" being a useful catchall term for helping those people categorize some key differences between F2F and digitally mediated interactions.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:43 PM on June 1, 2020

Best answer: I'll also say that "netiquette" as a term seems rather out-dated -- like, Sandra Bullock in The Net out-dated -- although I think the general concept is still useful. But, I don't think that using it is necessarily a signifier that the course material is out-of-date. It could just be a weird 1990s holdover like "cybersecurity", which I think is still the official term in the US government/military circles.

However, I imagine much more relevant modern netiquette issues would be things like "if I view someone's IG story, am I obligated to like their most recent posts?" and "do I always need to credit the original creator for the sound that I'm using for a Tik Tok in the caption even though people can just click the sound itself to see the original creator?"

> itesser: "(Though there are routine spikes at certain times of the year. interseting.)"

Heh, those spikes appear to be largely in September and January, the most common months to start college terms/semesters (see: Eternal September). I can't help but wonder if a bunch of colleges still somehow have "netiquette" lingering somewhere in their syllabi.
posted by mhum at 6:07 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Netiquette seems about as relevant as complaining about top posting, Reply-To mungeing, the Eternal September and HTML posts to a listserv.

To which the only correct response is “What's a listserv, granddad?”
posted by scruss at 6:09 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just chiming in to say I'm one of Gretchen McCulloch's "Old Internet People" (got on in 1990) as well as an old GenXer, and I think this term is very evocative of a certain time that is long gone, although the underlying concept is still relevant in ways that the above commenters have detailed.
posted by matildaben at 6:09 PM on June 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

Oh, the irony on this very civilized and well moderated site that we agree (I do too) that netiquette is a quaint and outdated term. I went to a get together last year and chatted with two sharp young guys who told me their work was focused on laying down rules for online advertising to avoid obnoxious interruptions and hijacking of online browsing. That mission is as dead on arrival as netiquette, may it rest in peace. People are uniformly jerks on the internet and there are no consequences. My prime example: the Orange.
posted by bearwife at 6:40 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's definitely a quaint relic of the 90s to my ears. No one who actually understands the social dynamics of the internet uses that term anymore.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:59 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Total relic of a term and also gives me the hives when I hear someone use it in a serious, unironic way.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 9:00 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can't help but wonder if a bunch of colleges still somehow have "netiquette" lingering somewhere in their syllabi.

The computing and technology support center at my uni still uses "netiquette." They also still offer VHS duplication.

Many online education circles, especially for K-12 in the US or at international schools, seem to have moved on to a broader "digital citizenship" structure that includes privacy, digital footprint, not doxxing people, not bullying, etc. Oh yeah, and respecting copyright.
posted by Gotanda at 2:19 AM on June 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not to abuse the edit window, but looking around, one of their support pages specifies requirement for "Internet Explorer 5.01 or higher and Windows Media Player 7.1 or higher" which puts them and netiquette squarely in the last century.
posted by Gotanda at 2:26 AM on June 2, 2020

Very late-nineties word to me. Goes with AOL CDs, CRT monitors, dial-up, Netscape Navigator, all the talk about "jacking in" in that season-1 Buffy episode about the demon on the internet.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:28 AM on June 2, 2020

My university made me take a course like yours to prepare me to teach online last year. Not only did they use the word "netiquette," but they require that we have a section with that sub-heading in all of our online course syllabi. It strikes me as old-fashioned, too, but I think in that professional space it's still au courant.
posted by dr. boludo at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2020

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