Social order is reliant on citizens agreeing to act in ways that benefit the common good. Certain approved behaviours in our face-to-face interactions allow us to interact harmoniously or with restraint when conditions are unfriendly. Now that our social interactions are mostly in the digital space, we must consider whether real-world social conventions followed us into this virtual world?

Social media opened the world to billions. Nearly five billion or 61.4% of the total global population were social media users last month (Kepios via This connectivity to each other creates an illusion of social intimacy that blurs lines of propriety of most face-to-face interactions. Unregulated access to each other’s (curated) personal lives can empower some to share unsolicited opinions. We see strangers feeling free, entitled even, to express their dislikes, disagreements and worse in verbally abrasive and abusive ways. They employ trolls, bots, fake and private accounts on social media to fuel discord, create chaos and act as judge, jury and executioner with impunity. Too many of us exercise little to no responsibility for our conduct or the information we share online, and this could be dangerous in a world of misinformation and disinformation.

Locally, several recent cases raised the issue of social media responsibility. Jamaican vlogger Andre Stephens lost a defamation suit and must pay damages to investment banker Ryan Strachan. An accused U.S. Navy Petty Officer in a murder-for-hire plot against a Jamaican woman and her infant drew much attention. Here and in the diaspora Jamaicans commented, criticized and speculated on social media. Some tried the accused themselves, even recommending appropriate judgement. It prompted one lawyer for one of the accused to voice concern about public discourse in the case. Another report was about female students making inappropriate advances to male teachers. The response was adults hurling insults, vilifying children and making truly disturbing remarks on social media, instead of engaging in meaningful discourse on how to address an important social issue.

Intentional or unintentional poor conduct on social media has consequences in the real world. To avoid that, we should employ rules to help us be responsible online users. Here are some accepted conventions for being responsible digital citizens: 

Responsible Communication
Be mindful that our interactions with others reflect the way we would like to be treated. Be respectful. Be polite, even when disagreeing. Avoid personally attacking those with whom you disagree. Don’t use swear words or offensive emojis, and stay on topic. 

Responsible Sharing of Personal Information
By now, we should all be aware of the dangers of sharing personal information with strangers online. Identity theft, financial exploitation and personal digital and real-world harm could be the result. If you would not share your own, you should not share another person’s personal information without their permission. 

Responsible Content and Information Sharing
Never share information and content without verifying the bona fides of the source. Make sure you can find the same information from multiple reputable sources. Confirmation bias is real, so we tend to believe information that matches our expectations. Verify before sharing. Credit sources when sharing content and information. Don’t share offensive content. Your account could be deactivated, and you could face legal action.

Respecting Platform Rules and Guidelines
Platforms have different rules to govern user conduct. Read these and follow guidelines so you don’t lose your account or find yourself in legal trouble.

Social media etiquette allows us to create positive and inclusive environments through healthy and respectful interactions among users and the communities they create. It promotes effective communication and reduces misunderstandings and misinformation that can impact not just the digital community but also real-world relationships. Connect responsibly!