Rules of online social engagement I wish I knew in 1999

  1. If you come off as desperate for approval, no one will give you any.
  2. People think of their time, attention, and emotional engagement as finite and valuable. They will not lend much of it to you unless they know and trust you.
  3. Emailing and DMing strangers without solicitation is treated as an attempt to take their attention by force. If you do it, most people will treat you the way they’d treat someone who tried to steal their wallet.
  4. People feel more comfortable with a situation if they know they can easily leave it. Ghosting is the kindest form of disengagement for all parties: encourage it.
  5. People who don’t know you don’t give a shit about what you think unless it’s interesting or useful. People won’t get to know you unless they begin to care about what you think.
  6. The easiest way to stand out as a member of a community is to reliably contribute enough that you blend in. Repeated useful contribution makes you valuable, which makes people value you.
  7. When in doubt, don’t say anything at all. Nobody will notice.
  8. If you become well-liked, you will not find out until years later. This is normal.
  9. A good online community outlives its platform and simply becomes a friend network. Decades after the forum is shuttered, you’ll still talk to these people.
  10. Unlike in real life, ignoring people who are making you miserable is relatively straightforward online. Use it before engaging, without engaging. Use it with plausible deniability. Ignore rather than blocking. The people you ignore will never know that you aren’t seeing their posts, nor will they care.
  11. Bad-faith statements pollute any community and ruin it. If you see anyone posting something you think is in bad faith, even if you agree with it, put them on ignore immediately.

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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