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How Not to Offend Anyone Online

Updated on March 25, 2023
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John is passionate about human and animal rights, social justice, equality, and the environment, and likes to convey that in his writing.

There are two sides to every conversation
There are two sides to every conversation | Source

Online Writing is Open to Misinterpretation

With the Internet and social media being the fastest growing communication tool on the planet it is inevitable that at some stage something you write or post online will upset or offend someone else, or God forbid, even a large group of people.

I consider myself to be a very easy going and placid person in real life. I don't like conflict and will usually go out of my way to avoid it or try to be an calming intermediary if it involves others. That being said, even I have to think carefully and consider all contexts in which my writing may be interpreted before I hit the enter key.

In about 15 years writing online, and almost six of those on this site, I thankfully admit that I have only offended others (that I am aware of) on a handful of occasions. Believe me, none of these was intentional either. The main problem in communicating in writing on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as forums, chat rooms, comments etc. is that the recipients or readers have no way of gauging the intonation behind your words or of interpreting your body language. For this reason you have to think carefully about any possible misinterpretation before posting your text.

A person's mood when reading your text will often determine how they interpret it, and whether they find it funny, positive, or degrading and offensive. Cultural, racial and even gender differences can determine how another person reads and processes what you write as well. So, please beware, a seemingly innocent remark can get you into all sorts of hot water.

I dedicate this article to anyone I have upset or offended online. Please accept my sincere apologies.

Communication is not always easy.
Communication is not always easy. | Source

10 Ways to Avoid Being Misunderstood Online

  1. Only communicate using Video Chat, Skype, or FaceTime. This way the other party can read your expressions, intonation, and body language to help them interpret what you are saying.
  2. Carefully re-read everything you write, considering all possible interpretations and negative responses. Don't jump to conclusions yourself when reading what others have written.
  3. Don't enter into discussions or forums on controversial topics such as Climate Change, Religion, or Politics, or anything that you can't discuss objectively.
  4. Don't engage "obvious" trolls in discussion. You will never win these arguments, and if you get agitated or angry they are just succeeding in what they set out to do.
  5. Never leave negative comments on other people's hubs or blog posts. If you can't say something positive, it's best to say nothing at all.
  6. If you really feel strongly about an issue and are compelled to enter a discussion on a topic of which there are strongly conflicting views, make sure you are armed with solid facts and statistics to back up your point of view.
  7. Never reply to a post or comment with the sole purpose of provoking an argument or denigrating the other opinion. Don't be a troll yourself!
  8. Don't say more than you need to. Often trying to be too verbose will eventually result in you putting your foot in your mouth and subsequently offending.
  9. Don't pretend to be an expert in fields where you are not knowledgeable or educated. If you find out you have said something wrong or incorrect..for God's sake.. APOLOGISE!
  10. Be nice. Treat everyone else amiably and with respect and chances are they will treat you the same way.

Losing Touch by Blake Duffin

While Writing Online..

Have you ever ..?

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Online Communication-Instant Messaging
Online Communication-Instant Messaging | Source

W.W.Walk the Talk (a short poem)

Online communication

A marvel of our time,

Transcending the world

Like a famous nursery rhyme.

Voice your strong opinions,

Free speech is your right,

But please don't be a bully

Or a troll in the night.

Google, Facebook,Twitter,

News feed on the run,

Plus, like, share, or tweet,

Chat and have some fun.

But be careful what you type,

It's easy to offend.

Re-read everything you write,

Think before you send.

Chatting face to face
Chatting face to face | Source

Parting Thoughts

As I said earlier, you should try not to jump to conclusions. It is so easy to do this even when chatting to someone face to face in real life. So just imagine how easy it is when you are communicating just through written words online. Always take your time and don't just dive in to a quick reply, especially if you are upset. Count to ten, take a few deep breaths, and if you have to even walk away for a few minutes.

Try to clear your mind of the angy or distressing thoughts and replace them with something pleasant. When you feel more relaxed, return and read the text again. You may be pleasantly surprised that it wasn't so offensive as you first thought. If you had already replied in anger and now realise your mistake, please swallow your pride and admit that you were too quick to judge. It's always better to make friends than enemies. You never know when you'll need them :)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 John Hansen


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