10 Commandments for Posting in Online Community Forums

People are connected today more than ever!

Residents within neighborhoods, homeowners associations, and entire towns are regularly gathering online to pass on information, seek advice, ask for referrals, post items for sale, and share important announcements.

With the surge of local Facebook groups, private neighborhood sites, and community-based apps, many people find themselves in multiple online community forums on different platforms. Increased communication with people who share a common interest in where they call home is a good thing … for the most part.

Sometimes it can deteriorate into community gossip, character assassination of a neighbor, slander of a local business, or mayhem sparked by local online trolls.

While some online community forums are moderated, many are not.  Regardless if there’s a moderator, it’s up to individuals to self-govern and self-regulate their own online behavior and to post responsibly, respectfully, and with common sense.

These “10 Commandments for Posting in Online Community Forums” were not established atop a mountain, spoken from a burning bush, or found etched in stone tablets.

They come from a couple of fellow wanderers in this digital age who’ve spent more than a decade observing and writing about online behaviors, participating in many online forums, reading lots of cringe-worthy postings and embarrassing back-and-forth threads, and watching simple disagreements spiral out of control. Our view is, why repeat the mistakes and predictable outcomes of countless others?

#1) Thou shalt be fully responsible for what you post: The words you type, the tone of your post, the links you share, and the pictures you post are all YOURS. When you press “Send,” you own your post.

#2) Thou shalt use other types of communication when need be: Something you post will offend others at some point. A political statement, a poorly crafted joke, or a stern statement on a topic. There will be times that you inadvertently crossed a line. Relationships are more important than defending you “rightness”. And there’s times where voice-to-voice (phone call) or face-to-face communication is necessary to resolve an online exchange.

#3) Thou shalt own the mistakes you make online: Admitting your mistakes and apologizing is crucial for relationships… including online forum relationships. This includes: posting wrong, incomplete, or bad information; treating people or entities poorly with your posts, or causing unnecessary drama with what you type. Even if it’s unintended, own your mistakes and do what you can to make it right.

#4) Thou shalt not abuse the purpose of the online forum: Every online exchange has a purpose. The private neighborhood site is about the neighborhood you live in. The Facebook community page usually has what is and is not allowed to post. So, follow the rules. Someone else set these forums up, so respect their efforts. Don’t solicit business, spam about income possibilities, or discuss matters that are off topic. Respect everyone’s time and sacred space to live within the purpose of the online forum you belong to.

#5) Thou shalt not spam, troll, or send unwanted posts to individuals in the forum: Riding the coattails of Commandment #4, don’t take advantage of the members of the community forums by sending private solicitations for anything that comes up in the forum…unless asked. Don’t infer, don’t interpret, and don’t assume people want whatever you are offering, as tempting as your offer is. It is about respecting the person, the forum, and the unspoken boundaries we all should live by.

#6) Honor your name, your family name, and your reputation: You are the only one who cares (and should care) about your reputation. So, you are the only one who can protect it. In many of the community forums, often your picture, your name, and a link to more information about you is available to everyone in the online community. What you’re saying and how you’re saying it is being seen by many, not just those you’re responding to (or who “like” it). Many more are staying on the sidelines, staying silent, and could possibly recall your online actions in real life situations.

#7) Thou shalt not make a private matter public: Discernment is a must here. A statement we often cite is, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” You can post anything. And for a millisecond, you think it was the best post in the world. Until the reactions start coming. Ding. Ding. Ding. Does every neighbor need to know about the letter you received from the HOA about your yard before appealing the notice in the agreed upon process? Does the entire forum need to know you got served a bad cup of coffee from a brand new restaurant in town? Should you verbally torch a community leader online before discussing your disagreements with them in a way so they can fairly respond? Don’t be so quick to take things online if you haven’t gone offline in the first place.

#8) Thou shalt not slander someone online: Posting false information or malicious statements about a person or entity happens a lot in this digital age. And many of us have inadvertently participated in it, while some do it purposefully. It can come in the form of a “call to action” post, a bad review of an establishment, a leading question inquiring about someone’s intent, or a rant about a person or group in a particular situation. With numerous likes, a few shares, and a handful of comments, things can escalate out of control in a matter of minutes. Real damage can be done to the accused, without much consequence to the slanderers. The only reprieve for the slandered is hoping that people forget about or get distracted from the post in a few days and things die down.

#9) Thou shalt take a break if your emotions take over: Everyone has experienced this at some point. Whether it was a friendly jab taken wrong, a statement taken out of context, or a backlash about something you posted…there’s a point where the surge of strong feelings takes over and your fingers can’t type fast enough to respond to what feels like attacks. Responding to numerous people in the spur of a moment causes the heart to beat faster, the temperature to get higher, and the words to be more heated. It’s at that moment (or a little before things get out of control), that you take a “timeout” to get your emotions in check, and your actions in sync with calmer feelings. After thinking about what you “should have” said or how you “could have” responded…proceed to clean things up.

#10) Thou shalt take some time between writing a post and pushing send: In the era of instant gratification and real-time posts on social media, there are certain times that taking an extended break between writing a post and pushing SEND is a good idea. Not only does it give you time to re-read your post, have another person read and react to your pre-sent post, but it allows you to go through the nine other Commandments and determine if you’ve broken any of them. This comes in really handy on posts that you know will spark a reaction or have negative ramifications.

Rather than looking at this as a list of do’s and don’ts, view these 10 Commandments as guard rails for your online life so you don’t go careening off the cliff. Work on following a few, and progress to more as you see fit. The goal is to help you avoid common mistakes, save face, guard your reputation, and be a meaningful contributor to the online community forums to which you belong.

ACT NOW:

1) Find local online community forums that you can join and contribute to the conversation on. There’s all kinds of groups, ranging from community events to local government, from neighborhoods to special interests.

2) Decide on the 10 Commandments you need to work on, write them down in a place you’ll see them, and do what you can to live by them.

3) If you have “wronged” anyone online in the past, direct message, call or knock on their door and own your part of the issue.

About the Authors:

Jason and Kelli Krafsky are relationship experts turned Realtors, combining their relationship insights and real estate advice into articles and resources for home buyers, home sellers, and home owners at YourHomeLyfe.com!

Called “Your Family’s Go-to Real Estate Team,” Jason and Kelli serve clients throughout the Puget Sound region of Washington state with John L. Scott, Inc. – Bellevue Main office. They are also members of the National Association of REALTORS and Seattle-King County REALTORS. The Krafskys have been married since 1994 and have four kids.

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