Social Media Ethics in Rules of Thump

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From time to time threatening and bullying messages are brought to light by the media. What kind of rules apply online? Can nearly anything be said without anyone being held accountable for it?

Communication and discussion on the internet does not generally happen face-to-face, and sometimes people can even hide their identity under pseudonyms. The consequence of this has been that the online discussion and feedback forums have become a so-called Wild West, free of journalistic filtering. In such a situation, it is impossible to avoid excesses.

Even though it is practically impossible to make sure that everyone is playing by the common rules, it is good to keep in mind what kinds of issues that are based on legislation and ethics should be taken into consideration.

What is allowed in netiquette?

The basic rule of internet communication is, though, that the same rules apply as elsewhere. The same laws also apply. For example, stealing and harming someone’s work, identity or possessions are as illegal online as elsewhere. One can also be held accountable for violating copyrights, online as well as offline. Many services online, such as YouTube, are international. Violating copyrights will lead to deleting material at the least but at its worst, it can lead to criminal charges.

The basic rule of internet communication is that the same rules apply as elsewhere.

On the one hand, the same laws concerning, for example, defamation and inciting ethnic or racial hatred apply online. On the other hand, freedom of speech, manifested for example in laws and international treaties, is mainly designed to protect one’s right to express oneself and her/his opinions.

In addition to legislation, netiquette includes many ethical questions. First of all, once material is uploaded on the internet, it is likely to stay there forever. Given this, when publishing information or pictures that concern others, one must be extra careful. Even family members and friends are protected by the laws against privacy and defamation.

What is even harder is to set limits on rights to publish photos of one’s own children. At what age does the decision on publishing photos online move on from parents to the children themselves?

During the recent years the issue of cyberbullying has become the topic of discussion. Cyberbullying can include e.g.

  • Messages that are ridiculing or threatening by nature, which can be published also on the ‘wall’ of the person who is being bullied
  • Spreading rumors or personal information
  • Manipulating and distributing photos
  • Using someone’s name without authorization
  • Barring someone’s access to a group or a discussion
  • Establishing groups with an intention of disparagement
  • Tricking people into giving one their passwords
  • Slander on a blog or other publication


What is a troll?

Trolling is also a form of cyberbullying. A troll is an internet slang word which refers to a person who intentionally misleads discussions online, e.g. on forums or in comment threads. The main intention of a troll is to annoy people, cause conflicts and provoke people online. This might happen in the form of slandering or leaving inappropriate comments, or just by writing unnecessary messages so that in the end, following the rational discussion comes nearly impossible.

Because trolls are seeking for an emotional response and provocation, the best way of dealing with a troll is to ignore it completely. There’s no point to debating with a troll.

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