Key online etiquette concept: spirit and intent

Posted by Sheila Scarborough on December 18, 2020 at 1:04 pm

At one point in my Navy career, I had a crusty but wise boss who was big on the phrase “spirit and intent.”

He and I often had thoughtful conversations examining various difficult situations that would arise at our seagoing command.  When it came time to do the right thing at the end of the decision-making process, he would often say, “Let’s think about the true spirit and intent of this instruction (or directive or thorny concept….”)

At that point, we’d take off our more linear, more lawyer-y, more follow-the-rules hats and we’d don our philosopher’s hats.  We’d think about the gut instinct, the spirit and intent, behind whatever rules had been broken or that we were considering breaking.

The correct answer to our question was usually right there, sitting next to our better angels.  The trick was learning to listen to our heads and guts, then following through on the decision.

Let’s apply “spirit and intent” of what I’d call common courtesy to behavior and cultural expectations in online communities.

When in doubt about how to behave, what to blog about, how to respond to insult, when to market oneself and when to avoid marketing, think about the spirit and intent of social networking.  In a word, it is trust.

  • We often don’t meet face-to-face, so we must trust that people are who they say they are online, and that we aren’t seeing astroturfing.  Honesty and transparency is perhaps a bigger deal online than anywhere else.  Most famously egregious example of not being upfront: Wal-Mart’s happy bloggers, who were actually an Edelman PR campaign.
  • We trust that people understand that it’s OK to occasionally market oneself (we all loft links back to our blogs over the Twitter transom) but only when that’s not all that one brings to the conversation.  As long as Guy Kawasaki and others post (or especially auto-post) a lot of stuff from their personal sites/projects, they will be resentfully perceived as just doing marketing, not conversing. Kawasaki’s answer is that he gets a ton of traffic to his site from these Twitter announcements,  but that’s not the spirit and intent of online communities.
  • We trust that our personal email address books will not be given out willy-nilly in the effort to increase someone’s social network.
  • And, duh, we trust that we won’t find ourselves part of a Facebook ad program without knowing about it or being able to get out of it.

It’s a constant process to figure all of this out.  For example, I’ve always fully credited the photographer by name when I use flickr pics with a Creative Commons license, but I’ve never included a link back to the photographer’s particular photostream page.  Just in the last day or so, I’ve decided that this was an oversight on my part, so I’m going to go back and add a link to each photo on each of my travel blogs.  It’ll take me awhile, but it’s within the spirit and intent of what I consider “fair use,” even though no one has told me to do it to fulfill the attribution requirement of a CC license.

Spirit and intent.  Not just the black & white written rules, or pronouncements from the “experts,” but spirit and intent.  Sure, it’s often fuzzy and may not come with ROI stats or bar graphs, but that’s why you have two sides to your brain.

Thanks very much for a life lesson, Captain Ted Hill, Jr. (US Navy, retired)

Technorati tags:  online etiquette, social media, spirit and intent, online culture, manners, Netiquette

Category: Conversation

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Comment by Aruni Gunasegaram

Made December 19, 2020 at 10:11 am

Hi Sheila - nice post! I have been surprised at how people forget their manners online. I’ve only recently used a few flickr pictures and all times I’ve linked the picture back to the page of the palce I got it. In fact, I did a post with two flickr notes today.

I’m new to twitter so don’t have a huge following that leaving links to my blog on twitter would mean tons of clicks back to my blog. :-)

Comment by Todd Jordan

Made December 19, 2020 at 11:15 am

Spirit and intent counts! Wish more folks would take that into account when they decide to act, write, etc.

Part of doing the right thing is the value in doing it to others. Often doing the right thing is a selfless act, but call it karma or whatever, but those positive and well made choices often pay off in the long run.

I’m lately in the camp of trying to make the best choice, taking others into consideration and worrying less about the reward for myself. If only folks would start down that path across the board in social networking.

Comment by Sheila Scarborough

Made December 19, 2020 at 10:13 pm

** Aruni: Hi there, I think I owe you a phone call/email, right? :) Thanks for your insights, and if you think you’ve blogged about something good, pls. do let your Twitter followers know about it.

** Todd: You’re right about good choices remaining good through the long haul, AND they let you sleep at night!

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