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The Privacy Lawyer: The Checklist For Cybercommunications

The right--and wrong--ways to make sure your E-mail gets its message across.

Recently, as part of our prelaunch of a new Web site using Marvel's superhero characters, InternetSuperHeroes.org (I'll share more about this exciting project over the coming months), I wrote two articles for my "Ms. Parry's Guide To Correct Netiquette" that received a great deal of attention. When rereading them, I realized that they apply at least as well to the business world as to children and their home computers.

Because so many problems arise from quick and thoughtless E-communications, the program is called "Take 5!" to remind people to think before clicking send and to walk away from the computer if they are emotional, angry, or reacting to something online. Taking the five minutes to cool down or gain perspective on the issue will often help avoid doing things we wish we hadn't.

So, with a few changes (such as removing references to parents and teachers), the article below should provide business users with some appropriate Netiquette tips, as well. (If you have children, especially between the ages of 11 and 14, you may want to visit InternetSuperHeroes.org and go over these articles in their original form with your kids. And make sure they know they can trust you not to overreact when things go wrong online.)

The Take 5! Checklist
It's so easy for people to misunderstand E-mails and cybercommunications. We have to be very careful to make them clear and help others to understand what we really mean.

So, before sending that E-mail or posting on that Web site or bulletin board, think before you click "send." Reread what you were going to send. If it meets any of the following factors, don't send it until you fix them. And if you can't fix them, maybe you shouldn't send the E-mail at all.

  • Start by making sure you're sending things to the right place, that it arrives there, and that the right person gets it.
  • Is your message addressed to the right person? Are you sure? Have you checked the spelling or screen name carefully? Is he or she in your address book or on your buddy list already? The easiest way to make sure you have the correct screen name or E-mail address is to save it automatically when someone sends you something. People change their E-mail addresses and screen names often, so make sure you're using the most up-to-date one.

    Also, don't be so sure that your E-mail makes it to the person you sent it to. With so many junk E-mails and viruses being sent these days, most Internet service providers are using spam-blocking technology to block and filter messages they think may be spam. Many innocent messages are caught in spam filters and never get delivered. Some businesses and individuals also are using their own anti-spam software that may block your E-mail. Remind your contacts to add your E-mail address and screen name to their approved lists so that you won't be blocked by accident and warn them in advance before using a new address or screen name. Depending on which E-mail service or application you use, you may be able to track your message and see if it's ever delivered, and sometimes if it's read. It's good Netiquette to ask recipients if they're OK with your sending something to track whether they've opened or read an E-mail before using such technology, though. (And make sure the person you're corresponding with isn't blocked by your E-mail filters or spam blockers, either.)

  • Is your message worth sending? Don't waste peoples' time or bandwidth with junk, chain E-mails, and false rumors.
  • Some of your friends and people you know love getting lots of E-mail, instant messages, and jokes. Others don't. Before you start sending lots of jokes and attachments to people, find out if it's OK. And if people tell you they're busy, respect their time. It never hurts to ask first. That way, people will look forward to getting your E-mails and cybercommunications instead of ignoring them.

    Don't send chain E-mails. They clog up E-mail servers. And they sometimes scare people.

    Also, never send anything you haven't confirmed as being true. Many hoaxes and cyber-rumors are sent by people who blindly forwarded them on, without checking to see if they're true. (You can read more about urban legends, hoaxes, and cyber-rumors and how to check if they're true at our "Truth or Hype" section at www.aftab.com.)

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