10 Ways to Avoid Being an Online Idiot, a Gear Diary PSA


It’s that time again– time for your friendly neighborhood technology-obsessed Gear Diary team to offer some thoughts and suggestions in the form of a public service announcement. Today’s PSA: 10 Ways To Avoid Being An Idiot Online.

Gizmodo the Gadget Guide


Number 1. To avoid being an idiot online make sure you don’t use gratuitous cursing in your posts and your comments. It doesn’t make you look cool, it isn’t funny and it really adds nothing to the conversation. It just makes you look like an adolescent… and a rather immature one at that.


Number 2. To avoid being an idiot online correct people’s mistakes in private. If you see a mistake in a post, comment or other article don’t publicly comment on the mistake or tweet it. There is a reason for email, IM, Direct Tweets etc. Publicly pointing out someone else’s errors doesn’t make you cool or a better technology writer. It just makes you look like a moron. The only exception one can imagine here is the case of someone has never ever made a mistake for him or her. In that case feel free to build yourself up by putting others down. But keep in mind that if you think you are one of those people who has never made a mistake… you’ve got bigger issues with which to deal.

Old joke that was NEVER funny

Number 3. Avoid being an idiot online by using the blind copy fields in your email if you are e-mailing more than four or five different people. No one wants you sharing their email address with 75 people when you distribute the stupid joke that’s been around for five years. Email the joke to yourself and send a blind copy to everyone else. Or better yet, don’t email the joke at all. It wasn’t even funny the first time it made its way around and that was five years ago.

Michael Anderson:(Commenting on the initial email having a ton of typos)

That stuff is WHACK! And jeez, you misspelled tonz o’crap – just another one of those things in this age of auto-correct, to the point I had to tweet it out and post on Facebook to point out how much it happens!

But hey, auto-correct PHAIL is the chink in the armor of mobile technology …

(c w0t i did tehre?) 😉

BTW – totally agree. Last week there was an article on some mobile tech site where the author swapped usage of ‘then’ and ‘than’, and the comments completely devolved after someone went on an abusive rant about it …

Number 4: Avoid being an idiot online by remembering this: In every encounter in life you can choose to either be the person you always wanted to be … or be the person you hoped you would NEVER become.

Number 5: Avoid being an idiot online by not speaking in ‘absolutes’ in a discussion. This is something they tell you for relationships in general – ‘always’ and ‘never’ are the quick route to ending a civil discussion. NEVER do it!

Universal Truth  42 Tshirts from Zazzle com

Number 6: Avoid being an idiot online by remembering that there are few universal truths, and since the person you are writing to or about might be living in a very different circumstance from your own.

Number 7: Avoid being an idiot online by reading and re-reading what you wrote. Think not about that you want to say but rather think about how what you wrote will be heard and, more to the point, misunderstood. Also read and re-read the other person’s opinion. They might be right and you are missing it … or you might be right and they are missing it due to lack of clarity.

Travis Ehrlich:


Number 8: Avoid being an idiot online by not posting pics you don’t intend your boss, mother or significant to see. That goes for writing too. And if you have a problem or fight, do it in private!!!!

(image courtesy Engadget)

Doug Moran:

Number 9: Avoid being an idiot online by remembering that *anything* you say *can and may* be associated with your real-life persona at any time by anyone basically forever after you send it out, and word your posts/emails/responses accordingly. If you think hiding behind an alias will protect you, you’re wrong. You may be forced to stand behind anything you post at any time; keep that in mind all the time.


Judie gets the final word:

Number 10. Remember that anything you put online is only a “right-click and save as” away from becoming the next internet meme. If you don’t want to be known as “that girl who …” don’t post it.

Categories: Editorials

14 replies

  1. I think most of us have done or said something online we regretted … perhaps as soon as we clicked ‘send’.  Mobile makes it even easier to be an ‘instant idiot’.  No wonder my company makes us take a 15 minute ’email etiquette refreshed’ annually … 😀

  2. I should have added:  avoid commenting on someone else’s spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.  Maybe they made a typo–I do it all the time–or maybe they just stink at those things, but rest assured that any post in which you ping someone for a typo, *you’ll* make a typo!  Glass houses and stones and all that.

    • Once I made a snarky comment criticizing the way something was written and used ‘grammer’ specifically … but since subtlety is lost online, it got all blown out of proportion.  And taken out of context my comment looks really jerky rather than ironic … :(

      • I actually somewhat disagree with the notion of not correcting things, irrespective of whether or not you also make mistakes.  Why?  Because I think if you are writing online then you have an extra responsibility to write correctly and check what you write before you post.  If you make a mistake one of the fastest ways to learn to not do it again is to have it pointed out publicly.  I’ve had people do it to me many times online and it’s terribly embarrassing, but I usually don’t make the same mistake again!  (Instead I make new mistakes!  :)  )   That said, I think that if you are going to make a “correction” in a comment, then you should make sure that you don’t present it in a nasty way – THAT is how you truly end up looking like an idiot!  There is always a nice way to say “I think you might have made an error…” or “Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I think you meant to say….”.   
        So, yes, I agree that privately contacting someone first is absolutely preferable – make no mistake – but the method for doing that is not as obvious or easy as it should be and sometimes there is no alternative.  GearDiary makes it easy to contact the author privately, but many sites do not.  Additionally, I have seen, on certain sites, that even when you contact them privately they make NO effort to correct the problem.  In that case, I have NO qualms about publicly “outing” the mistake.  So understand your point, but I think it depends on the situation!

        • It’s all in the tone, I guess. You’ll get people who act so superior as they try to correct you publicly, and yet (many times) they will have their *own* typos in the correction! 😉

          • In addition, it is one thing to correct on that post and do so respectfully. ( I still prefer in private.) it is quite another to, for example, tweet it to thousands of people. There is only one reason to do that and it is not to be helpful.

            • Oh yes, I 100% agree. All that does is reconfirm to anyone who was wondering (or who might have forgotten) what a TOOL you are. 😉

            • Yes – that is absolutley true! Tweeting to the entire world is amazingly rude! And I agree – it has to be totally about the tone – and the situation. My only real point is that it is not always the wrong thing to do (in my opinion) and it does not always mean you are an idiot if you are correcting someone online. There are no absolutes! (Hmm – didn’t i just read that somewhere…? LOL)

    • Right. And it’s fair game (and quite satisfying) to correct a typo in front of the entire world when that person just corrected someone else’s minor typo!

      The same principle applies in real life. Several years ago, one of my college religion professors made a few comments near the beginning of a lecture about people who use an acronym then say a redundant word from the acronym. (“NASCAR auto racing” would be an example.) Not fiften minutes later, he used the phrase “DOS operating system” two or three times.

      Of course, I raised my hand…

  3. I only correct misspellings if I’m reading a fan fiction and the person has obviously failed every English class they’ve ever taken. Seen a few where punctuation was “optional”, and their teachers must have just been passing them every year just to get them out of their classes.

  4. Love this article- all very true points, and wish people would realize that online is not private and it can come back to bite you. Also hate grammar Nazi’s- have they tried using the correct apostrophes when live-blogging and event? Great post.

    • I have to somewhat disagree with you.  I think – to an extent – grammar Nazis can be useful – sometimes.  Why?  Because I think we, as a society, have become way too lax and we let too many things just slide.  There’s an attitude about things being “good enough” and I think this is a bad attitude and the core of many of the problems we have today.

      I agree that getting all bent out of shape about an apostrophe is ridiculous, especially in a live blogging situation, but I have seen situations where even the title of the story had a error in it.   I remember one title that had a horrible error in it – one that completely changed the meaning – and when I contacted the author in private I was read the riot act and that he had no intention of correcting the error (but he did acknowledge that it was an error).  So I corrected him publicly in the comments of his story, but I did it in a very polite way.  I was amazed that many people after me indicated that they were happy I pointed it out because they had been confused by the title.  The author sent me a note indicating that he did not appreciate my actions, but I replied that I didn’t need praise or damnation, but he had a responsibility and he should have taken the time to correct the error. 

      Of course the other thing that authors do that really annoyed me is when they write sensationalistic titles (sometimes outright lies) that are really not reflective of the content of the story.  That is a gripe for another day!  :-)

  5. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen #3 done by people who should know better. With my luck, my being in a scattergun email probably been sent to people with compromised systems. >:P

    Also, in posting online, one needs to be mindful of context, as Mike hinted in his above. I’ve been guilty of that more times than I care to admit, because I tend to type how I might say something, but the context or intention of how I meant to say it, say teasing someone or being sarcastic, doesn’t sometimes translate well when putting words onscreen.

    • I’ve definitely been on the wrong side of being misunderstood because the context of speaking is different than that or writing.  People have a much more difficult time following subtle humor in writing!  My attempts at it have usually failed miserably and one day I will learn to not do it at all!  :=)