I saw this on Mark Shea’s blog and I couldn’t help but re-post it here:
A well-known rule for using the Internet is that “you shouldn’t post anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t say in person.” I would actually go further. I would say that sometimes you shouldn’t post something on the Internet even if you would say it in person. Over the years I have countless times seen innocent emails or Internet posts lead to stupid arguments due to simple misunderstandings. When you write something, there is no way for the person reading it to see your body language or hear the inflection of your words or recognize your sarcasm. And because most Internet writing is done quickly without a lot of forethought, the words used might not convey exactly what the writer intended.
When it comes to Internet communications, both the writer and the reader have responsibilities:
Writer: Read and re-read your writing before you post it. Try to read it objectively, without the inflections that are in your head. Try to find ways in which it can be misunderstood before you post it.
Reader: Read the writing in the best possible light. Assume the best of the writer. Don’t add your own inflections to the writing, but try to look at it as objectively as possible. Even if you think you know that the writer intended to slam you or your beliefs, first confirm with the writer what he meant before you respond.
For more advice on safely navigating the Internet without losing your soul, see my Rules of Engagement for Catholics on the Internet.