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Despite the fact that public writing in the virtual world has become increasingly popular, some people think less and less about what they write online. One particular consequence of this trend is the rise, in the past few years, of employers “vetting” the online personas of potential employees and scholarship applicants.

Whether or not you agree with the practice, employers are examining social media for information about their applicants. As Diane Stafford, a business writer for The Kansas City Star, reminds us, “Like it or not, your online presence will be part of pre-employment background and credit checks” (37). Similarly, Bill Greenwood of Information Today writes that as “Facebook has grown, so has the use of the site as a vetting tool” (2). Greenwood highlights a study called “Reaching the Wired Generation: How Social Media Is Changing College Admissions,” drawing attention to the fact that it is not just employers that are monitoring social media these days. This study found that “21% [of the 243] college and universities surveyed stated that they research and recruit potential students on social networking sites” (1). Public writing will help you think more closely not only about the type of information you post online but also where you choose to post that information. As Greenwood advises, “Generally, a good rule of thumb is just don’t post anything online if you don’t want it to be public information” (2).

Some public spaces on which students are active include the following:

  • Blackboard,
  • Facebook,
  • Twitter,
  • public blogging sites (such as WordPress.com),
  • fan fiction or discussion forums,
  • and wikis.

These spaces all have unique features, including the target audiences and how the site presents your information to these readers. Regardless of these differences, however, information posted on these sites is public to a variety of other Internet users. The Blackboard discussion board is probably the one exception to this. Blackboard is a heavily secured site, and what you write publicly in this space will only be visible to your instructor and classmates. In this way, Blackboard writing is actually only semi-public. The advantage to using the Blackboard blog is that it functions like other blog spaces, especially ones such as WordPress.com and Facebook, while still giving students a great deal of privacy.

Public Writing Etiquette

Many of us have sent a text, e-mail, or Facebook message that unintentionally offended someone. Before undertaking any type of public writing, a writer should be aware of the way readers may perceive his or her words by taking precautions to avoid sounding offensive or unintelligent. These precautions are especially important because of the longevity of information posted on the Internet; some online writing spaces continue to exist years after the original posting date. As you write publicly, always ask yourself if your words reflect the person you want to be in ten, or even twenty, years. Even if you write something that you later delete, you should be aware that your posts can often be retrieved by archiving sites such as www.archive.org. Be aware of Internet etiquette and norms—especially those particular to individual online writing spaces—and writing with those norms in mind will help you avoid publishing something online that you may regret. Some general norms regarding Internet etiquette include:

    1. Respect the community. Interact with members of the community in a way that reflects the treatment you would expect to receive. In other words, be nice.

    2. Listen to others. When someone presents an opinion that is different from your own, make an effort to understand that person’s perspective on the topic. Resist the urge to immediately tell someone she is wrong simply because her opinion differs from yours.

    3. Be accountable for your actions. The perceived anonymity of online interactions causes some users to feel comfortable writing things they would not say in a face-to-face situation. Take responsibility for your actions, and never write something online that you would not feel comfortable saying in person (Brantner). The Internet Protection Act, which requires web administrators to eliminate anonymous postings, is aimed at increasing accountability in online interactions.

Therefore, while there are many benefits to public writing, students must do so responsibly. Consider, for example, whether or not a specific form of electronic discourse (txt spk, colloquial language, Internet jargon, etc.) is a viable and effective form of writing for a particular online forum. Also, be sure not to include any material that would be considered unacceptable in the space in which you are composing. This does not mean that you cannot express your opinions within your own writing or in response to others, but you should express your opinions in a caring way that shows respect for those opinions that differ from your own. When publishing online, be sure that you are respecting yourself, the members of your online community, others who may read your posts, and the writing space. In short, you should always strive to represent yourself professionally when writing in public spaces.

Works Cited

Brantner, Eric. “The 11 Rules of Social Media Etiquette.” Digital Labz. Digital Labz LLC. (2011). Web.

Greenwood, Bill. “Facebook: The Next Great Vetting Tool?” Information Today (Sept. 2009): 1–2, 46. Print.

Stafford, Diane. “Grooming Your Online Persona.” Women in Business (June 2010): 37. Print.

See also:

Digital Ethics