4 Tips for Avoiding Negativity in Internet Discussions


Kevin Jenkins, Student & Alumni

Online learning platforms are a great way to allow for spirited discussion amongst classmates, however, sometimes in the heat of the moment, that discussion becomes too passionate –to the point of being downright offensive. As a communications professional, it’s important to learn how you can communicate your viewpoints, sometimes even a disagreement, while at the same time maintaining a positive, professional dialogue. The discussion boards in your online communications courses are an excellent way to further develop this skill by learning how to use good netiquette.

Below are four easy netiquette tips to keep in mind when you discuss and disagree upon the topic at hand, online or at work.

1. Back It Up

It’s one thing to disagree, but it’s another to disagree without anything to validate your point. Sure, it’s easy enough to back up your thoughts with something you glanced at on the Internet, but that’s not good enough. Much like the initial discussion posts themselves, backing up your position with scholarly materials or points from the reading will serve you well, not to mention, show your instructor (or your future boss) you are forming a well-rounded argument or counter-point.

2. Be Gentle

Some 20 years ago, a high school instructor in my hometown created a simple campaign to push back against bullying and verbal harassment, green bumper stickers with two words – Be Gentle. I’m not saying this to suggest you coddle your online classmates and always use safe words, but you do need to remember that not everyone thinks the same way you do. Be professional: avoid condescending language, don’t belittle people. You can question their ideas; but do so in a thoughtful manner.

3. Leave The Politics at Home

Among the things experts say you should never talk about on a first date are politics. Unless you are in a political science class, the same goes for the classroom – virtual or live. As much as you may be tempted, the online discussion board is not the place to try and influence others with your political acumen, something I suggest even more strongly in these heated weeks leading up to the election. Keep in mind you’re speaking with a diverse audience. As you can probably see on social media, things can get pretty heated, even among friends (raise your hand if you lost a Facebook friend because of this). We are all professionals and it can be hard to resist the temptation to comment, but please, use good netiquette and keep it out of the classroom.

4. Be Mindful of Word Length in Your Responses

Writing a War-and-Peace length response when your instructor says posts should be 500 words, with follow-ups being 300-400 words, isn’t respectful to your online instructor or fellow classmates. Abide by the requirement as best you can. The goal is to be thorough, yet succinct. Two thousand words is not succinct, it’s a good start to a term paper. As a student in a graduate program, this is something you should be able to do. While the next great novel may impress some, it turns off readers and shows that you can’t follow basic instructions.

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Kevin Jenkins is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.