Behaving respectfully online

One of the most important things about any community is that its members maintain respect for others in that community. That’s whether it’s a club, business, suburb or city. Or the virtual community of 4.8 billion internet users around the world.

As we all know, however, this isn’t always the case, with many people either behaving disrespectfully or simply not thinking before they act online.

Both intentional disrespect and lack of consideration can impact others in a variety of ways. Quite how depends on what has been said or done, their personal situation, their circumstances, personality and resilience. The effects could be embarrassment, mental trauma, an unwanted digital footprint, losing out on a job, becoming a victim of crime, or a viral torrent of wider abuse.

Often, if those responsible put themselves in others’ shoes, they may be genuinely horrified when they realise the effects. Many online abusers, however, gain satisfaction and even pleasure from their actions.

Examples of deliberate disrespect include:

  • Abuse on grounds of race, colour or beliefs – religious, political or otherwise. This could include harassment, bullying, intimidation, or trolling.
  • Abuse on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, body image, disability or other attributes.
  • Cyberstalking, with ex-partners, celebrities, politicians and other public figures being typical targets. Stalking can be online-only or alongside real-world stalking.
  • Attempting to force opinions, political views or ideologies on others, sometimes in the knowledge that they could cause wider harm.
  • Creating and/or sharing news, posts, images or videos about individuals or groups of people, with negative motives.

Examples of inadvertent disrespect include:

  • Posting or sharing seemingly innocent information or images about others – including your own children and other family members – without their permission.
  • Posting or sharing embarrassing images or video of others, such as suffering a misfortune, or on a night out.
  • Sharing, requesting or passing on intimate images or videos. In some cases, this could also be illegal.
  • Saying something to or about someone that’s hurtful on grounds of circumstances or background, but you did so hastily without thinking about it beforehand.
  • Creating and publishing/posting rumours and/or jokes about someone for ‘harmless’ fun, but which may cause offence, not least if others join in.

All of the above apply to not only those who create the disrespectful material, but also those who share it.

Behaving respectfully online: your ten top tips

  • Voice your opinions, beliefs, and agreement or disagreement with others in a balanced, objective, tolerant way. This will earn you wider respect than out-and-out attacking speech, or blindly following or spreading what others say.
  • Don’t be a ‘keyboard warrior’ by saying something to, or about someone online that you wouldn’t say to their face.
  • Treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself.
  • Online, use only language that you would use when speaking to your parents and others you respect.
  • There’s no place online for abuse or intolerance on grounds of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, appearance or beliefs. 
  • The internet is a fantastic resource, but not for promoting hate, violence, extremism or various forms of abuse.
  • If you’re tempted to create or share content or views that could hurt, embarrass or otherwise negatively impact others, put yourself in their position and consider how it would affect you. Think twice, or sleep on it.
  • It’s harder to tell online if someone is genuine, a made-up persona or is using someone else’s identity (profile or photo). Always be yourself, as impersonating others can be harmful.
  • Look into whether something is true and from a reputable source, before passing it on. There’s a lot of misinformation, fake news and ungrounded rumour on the internet, some of which has serious consequences when spread.
  • Consider others’ feelings – or other effects it may have on them – before posting or publishing information or images/video about them without their permission. This includes your own children and other family members.

In partnership with