Being a Gentleman in the Age of the Internet: 6 Ways to Bring Civility Online

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 13, 2011 · 244 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette

“All u need is one shell: for yourself. Done.”

“Nothing says survival like a tube of Carmex. Add a little to that condom you stored and protect the world from more people like you…”

The above comments were left on Tuesday’s post about building the Ultimate Survival Shotgun. That post was a big hit, quickly becoming one of our most popular articles of all time (thanks Creek!). But not everyone really got it—it was designed neither to be a humorous satire nor a super serious survival tutorial. Rather, it was simply supposed to showcase a fun project that also taught some of the basic principles of building a survival kit; it was meant to be an extremely cool look at a challenge a man set for himself—how to build a survival kit on a shotgun without any separate packs—and how he very cleverly accomplished the task.

Okay, so not everyone saw that, and even if they did, they still didn’t like it. That’s fine. We don’t expect everyone to like every article! But how does a man go from not liking a blog article to finding its author unworthy of reproduction or life?! I’ve come across plenty of blog posts that I’ve detested, but I’ve never made the leap from my distaste for a piece to thinking the author should off himself. Where does this kind of angry, cringe-inducing inhumanity come from?

Certainly the loss of empathy from interacting as anonymous, disembodied selves is a major factor. But the real root of the problem is how we view our time online; many see it as a break from their “real lives”—a place where they can let it all hang out. In their off-line lives they must be civil and refrain from telling their boss how they really feel about him, yelling at the customer service rep who’s giving them the runaround, and getting out of the car and punching the rude and reckless driver in front of them. The anger from this restraint boils inside of them, and online, freed from any real consequences, they unleash their pent-up venom.

But the world is spending more and more of its time online. For many, it has become our major source of education, entertainment, communication, and debate. Isn’t it time to let go of the false wall between our online lives and our “real” ones and act with the same kind of civility on the internet that we do in our day-to-day interactions?

Why a Man Should Strive to Be More Civil Online

A gentleman treats others with dignity and respect, regardless of the kind of forum in which he participates. He treats life’s fellow travelers as he himself would like to be treated. And in doing so, he makes the world a little better of a place everywhere he goes. He leaves those he interacts with feeling edified and uplifted instead of depressed and angry. Every man has the power to brighten his corner of the world, whether that corner be in the office, his home, or online. The more men who decide to take the higher road of civility, the more enjoyable everyone’s lives become. And choosing to reject our baser impulses in favor of our higher ones is a big part of becoming our best selves and building our legacy.

We all have daily annoyances that build up a well of anger inside of us. But instead of taking this rage out on others, it should be released healthily through things like exercise, meditation, and time spent in nature.

How to Be More Civil Online

Being a gentleman online simply involves the application of common sense. But anyone who leaves their home each day knows how uncommon common sense can be.

In our grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ time, etiquette books were extremely popular; believe it or not, Emily Post’s tome on the subject was one of the most requested books by GIs during World War II. Our forefathers understood something we often forget: no matter how common sense something is, without frequent reminders and practice, humans are drawn to the path of least resistance. While our culture has largely dropped these reminders to be our better selves, today we’ll fill in the gap by reviewing some common sense principles for being a gentleman online.

1. Remember that there are real people on the other side of the computer.

This is so easy to forget. We see only our screen and our empty apartment; the faces of folks out there who will be reading what we write seem unreal and nebulous. But they are out there. And your words can truly wound them. So when writing something, keep this rule in mind:

2. Never say something to someone online that you wouldn’t say to the person’s face.

Perhaps the most important rule for online interactions. People level the kind of vitriol online they would assuredly never say to someone’s face. I know a website owner that sometimes figures out the phone numbers of those who leave extremely rude comments and calls them up to ask what made them say something like that. Inevitably, the confronted person, hearing the voice of a real human being, is reduced to a stammering, apologetic mess.

3. Use your real name.

This is simple: if you’re not proud enough of something to have it associated with your real name, then why are you writing it?

Yes, there are caveats to this rule–legitimate reasons for anonymity. But when typing in an alias, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Do you have a valid reason for doing so, or do you simply wish to avoid ownership of your words because they are rude?

4. Sit on it.

This is something I’ve had to learn by experience and still struggle with. You see something that makes your blood boil, you’re filled with the desire to absolutely eviscerate a person, and you furiously type out a scathing response and press send. And later you regret it.

Instead, go ahead and write out your comment to get it off your chest, but sit on it for several hours or even a day. I know it feels like you simply have to get it off your chest at that very moment, but your adrenaline and heart rate are up and you’re not thinking clearly. Give it some time and you’ll be amazed at how “I must respond!” will transform into “Eh, who cares?”


5. Or don’t respond at all.

Your mom was right: If you don’t have something nice to say, sometimes it’s best not to say anything at all. This is another thing I’ve learned from experience and still slip up with. I used to want to rebut every bit of criticism directed at me, but I’ve learned to choose my battles and that it’s often better not to get involved at all. Just let people do their thing. I know it’s difficult because when we feel someone is wrong, it’s so hard to let it go. We want to show people the error of their ways and change their minds.

But as sure as you are about being right, you can never win an online argument. Why? Because of something called the “backfire effect.” In this article on the effect by David McRaney, which I highly recommend reading, he explains the fact that far from changing people’s minds, threatening someone’s beliefs actually strengthens and entrenches them further. This is why I generally abstain from heated internet debates; they get you all worked up, waste your time, and go absolutely nowhere.

If you come across a discussion where you really feel like a different perspective needs to be added, just jump in and civilly state your case instead of responding directly to specific people. People are much more likely to consider your point of view when they experience it indirectly as opposed to feeling attacked.

6. Say something positive.

Studies have shown what people already know from experience: folks are more likely to make negative comments in online forums than positive ones. It makes sense; when something makes you angry, you’re much more motivated to complain about it and want to vent. McRaney explains why this is:

“A thousand positive remarks can slip by unnoticed, but one “you suck” can linger in your head for days. One hypothesis as to why this and the backfire effect happens is that you spend much more time considering information you disagree with than you do information you accept. Information which lines up with what you already believe passes through the mind like a vapor, but when you come across something which threatens your beliefs, something which conflicts with your preconceived notions of how the world works, you seize up and take notice. Some psychologists speculate there is an evolutionary explanation. Your ancestors paid more attention and spent more time thinking about negative stimuli than positive because bad things required a response. Those who failed to address negative stimuli failed to keep breathing.”

Well, I certainly want to keep breathing, but I don’t want to only respond to things that make me angry. So this is something I’ve been working on too. When I read a blog post I enjoy, I find it easy to think, “That was great,” before surfing away. So I’ve been trying to take a minute to type those thoughts out before moving on. As a blog owner myself, I know how incredibly encouraging it is to hear something positive.

How else can we cultivate civility online?


{ 244 comments… read them below or add one }

201 Sara July 27, 2011 at 12:45 am

Bravo!! Excellent points. Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

202 Aaron July 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Great post! This topic definitely needed to be put out there.

203 Trent July 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Well said.

204 Levi July 27, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Great Post! Something I need to work on myself.

205 Gregg Hake July 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Loved this point: “A gentleman treats others with dignity and respect, regardless of the kind of forum in which he participates.” I agree wholeheartedly!

206 alexa July 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Excellent post and wholeheartedly agree. I hope more men and women take up the practice. I hope even more that the teenagers will consider it a good first step into assuming the title of gentleman and lady.

207 Kelvyn Panici July 31, 2011 at 11:48 pm

I could not agree more.
Just because you aren’t interacting face-to-face, doesn’t mean that decency and consideration can be thrown out the window.

As said in the article, I always use my name when replying to posts. Makes you think twice, since a quick google is all it takes to see someone’s posts on an online forum.

208 Artimid August 1, 2011 at 4:34 am

Just wanted to agree with the fact that, really, it comes down to the basics of the basics, the one Golden Rule. I used to tell this to students all the time, elementary through high school, treat others as you wish to be treated. Fights are a waste of time unless you are threatened with physical harm, anything else is just a waste. In a week, (or in school a few years) nobody will even remember talking to you or you to them.

Everything really is one big circle, and people tend to forget this when it comes to an online world. I have had to stop people and let them know that I, and the others talking to them were not really advanced AI, we were people and that we deserve the same basic consideration that all living creatures deserve. It is an uphill battle, sadly. ^_^
Otherwise, this is the perfect site for a forum post like yours, as hopefully if the reader is following the articles, this will strike them deeper than some nameless blog post on the interwebs.

209 Ron Baillie August 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

Excellent post, and let me say also, an overall great and needed website reminding males of manhood.

If I may, another way to be more civil online is to keep in mind that communicating is a lot more than just written text, or even spoken words for that matter. The nuances of language, meaning, intent and emotion can’t easily be conveyed. That means being as careful as you can with the words you use, the punctuation you use, and using captial letters for example.

210 danny dailey August 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Thank you, Brett and Kate for another good post!

A recent Rasmusen poll discovered that “76% Say Americans Becoming More Rude, Less Civilized.”

If those same 76% of Americans would strive to be more courteous and civil, they/we would make a big difference.

P.S. Danny Dailey is my real name.

211 Christopher Fitzgerald August 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm

With regards to Usernames instead of your real name, I don’t really think it’s for privacy reasons as much as it is for ‘just because’ reasons on the part of the user.

Most sites that encourage the user to register only seem to allow -unique- usernames, and this often includes forums and suchlike.

One benefit is that you don’t have twenty John Johnsons posting a million different ideas, but there are always ways around this, numbers on the end of your name, a unique avatar etc.

I use a username mostly everywhere on the internet, but I do make sure to put my real name in my profile, so that anyone who actually cares about that kind of thing can see it. Not that I think it matters a whit one way or the other.

(Though, putting on a tinfoil hat, giving out your name does make you easier to find…not that the site itself didn’t have that info. already.)

212 Christopher Fitzgerald August 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm

And here I go ignoring rule .4 hah. As an addendum, I frequent a gaming site called the Escapist, and almost this exact topic came, but in relation to the MMO World Of Warcraft. See Blizzard (the makers of the game) had decided to implement an identification system that would user it’s users really names on their forums instead of a username. This was in an effort to cut down on abuse by forum members.

Unfortunately due to public outcry they back down and scaled back the system, the main thrust of the against argument was that, by having any individual’s name freely available would more easily allow other individuals to more easily be able to find out where someone lived. There have been incidents in the past where people who knew each other through WoW (and indeed other online MMO’s) got into altercations, and occasionally loss of life sadly followed. Very rare of course, but the thought of that was enough to whip people into a frenzy about the new system.

213 Jo-ann Strebe August 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I think being thoughtful about you say to anyone is important read it first…..How would feel if that dropped on your site and the whole world saw it and YOU can’t get rid of IT!!
If You really need to say this thing…put it on file for at least til you have time to COOL
down!!! Read the letter again….if you still feel that way send it privately…I would say snail mail…there are no ways to pick it up via the internet…at least if you put YOUR foot in your mouth only one Person knows about it….lol

214 Dan Albright August 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

This article sucks!

Just kidding, I loved it.

215 Tony Bonitatibus August 11, 2011 at 2:37 am

I agree completely with this, and though I do use an alias (Lord Rixuk or just Rixuk) on my online games and forums, I freely associate myself with it. I have no problem with telling people who is really behind it since I always try and conduct myself in a gentlemanly manner even when on the web. I feel that the aliases and therefor the characters associated with are are extensions of myself, and so I would never do anything with them that I wouldn’t do in person. Great article, just discovering this website and feeling a calling to becoming a better man.

216 conrad gross August 11, 2011 at 11:45 am

I agree whole heartedly! I die a little inside each time i make the mistake of reading comments on a youtube post.

217 Anonymous August 11, 2011 at 9:53 pm

I see no virtue in being “identifiable”, as I know that some people feel perfectly entitled to do things on behalf of others. I have no desire to be presumed responsible for anything “I” may have done on the internet, and I extend that courtesy to others.

218 Thomas Hughes September 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm

In taking this article’s advice, I’d like to say that this is a really, really good article. This needs to be seen by 99.9% of people on the internet. I’ve been VERY guilty of being a meany on the internet, and this article (and website in general) is quite effective in helping me change that. Thanks a lot!

219 Mark October 11, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Some people are unlicked cubs.

220 PeeWee November 23, 2012 at 1:13 am

I’ve met some of these people they really are like that offline too.

My real name is not PeeWee but I only have good things to say and I like that survival dude.

221 Thom November 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Great post, great site.
Thank you!

222 VintageMan December 31, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Ten Rules of Being an Internet Gentleman. Or “gint.”

1. A gentleman knows his friends’ parents are also on Facebook.

2. A gentleman keeps his browsing private.

3. A gentleman does not troll, nor does he flame war.

4. A gentleman shuns Internet Explorer.

5. A gentleman has perfect privacy settings.

6. A gentleman uses Gchat, not the AIM.

7. A gentleman says more than just “Happy Birthday.”

A gentleman comments; sparingly.

9. A gentleman curates his bookmarks.

To like and share is gentlemanly, for never was a like not nobly done.

Hats off to you everywhere, you twirly-mustachioed gints!

223 Michael R. Jackson March 6, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Nice job, Brett and Kate! You have a very unique and interesting web site!

224 JWS March 12, 2013 at 7:02 pm

VintageMan, you definitely have some good points there… many people have been brought up to be uncivil these days. I myself was taught to be a gentleman, and consider others’ feelings as well as my own.

Brett & Kate, this is a FANTASTIC article that needs to be spread around and heeded……which I will do later once I can get back on Facebook at home.

225 Vern April 11, 2013 at 8:32 am

Excellent points. I see in myself some of the very things that you said to avoid. Thank you for the reminder.

226 Lance April 11, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Indeed one of the best articles you’ve put out to date.

227 Alex Emerick April 12, 2013 at 12:09 am

I hope Creek didn’t take to those comments. He is one of the manliest people on here and writes excellent articles. Cyber bullying is a big problem. Very interesting psychology that seems to be prevalent in teenagers.

228 Nick M April 20, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Spot on. Generally I don’t have a problem with internet forums, I consider an online battle, a battle of wits to which few are adequately armed. I would say the biggest test for me occurs while driving. One is still subjected to the anonymity that occurs on the internet, but with a bit more physical interaction and more serious repercussions. Perhaps a gentleman’s guide to road etiquette is in order?

229 Matt Sarchet April 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Well Done. I plan to share this message as much as possible online and in life.

230 Eugene Janse van Vuuren May 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Thanks. I have learned this lesson the hard way after I zipped off a angry email to a supplier. Let’s just say that it ended up in a huge email catfight between me, my superiors and the supplier. Now I never post a email when I am angry or upset. I wait a few hours, and then personally phone and try to resolve the issue in a quiet and respectful manner. One phone call is more effective in all cases than 10 emails.

231 Jeff Roney June 7, 2013 at 9:14 am

A few gushing opinions;

The site – Love it! It is informative, provocative, stylish and fun. I will be exploring more as days go by. Thanks for all of this. I know the work that goes into it, so here’s a gold star and a pat on the back for you and your team.
This post – Brett and Kate. This is one of those topics that it’s so obvious you feel it’s silly to post about, but this “elephant in the digital room” is so important that it must be brought up and discussed again and again to sink in with all of us. The internet and especially Social Media has this alluring (false) anonymity that gives the post-ers, Tweet-ers and Status Update-ers the “power” to express themselves in the heat of the moment without considering the other person’s meaning in the text that they posted and that misunderstanding leads to the dark side of these Social Media tools we share.

I’m “hall full” enough to hope that one day we will coexist in Web 2.0 in peace, but I know it will take excellent posts like this and discussions by great people here to start the change.

Cheers all. Know that what you have done here is very important.

Have a great day!

232 Alexandre July 11, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Great post, thanks for writing and sharing it!

233 jweaks July 11, 2013 at 1:49 pm

This will help those that are thoughtlessly or unintentionally uncivil online, but… I submit that the majority who are uncivil know exactly what they are doing, and desire to do it. They are probably uncivil offline as well, but worse online.

This isn’t an online problem as much as it is a worldview and cultural problem. By posting about something like “the Ultimate Survival Shotgun” YOU were deemed as the uncivil barbarian, unworthy of respect and hence YOU need to be stopped.

Those who attacked you were either trolls or true-believers of their cause to right YOUR wrongs. Telling them how to be civil will not be heard.

What we need more than guidelines and rules is a change of mind and heart, a repentance, a turning back to eternal truth.

234 Terry July 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Good article and sound advice. he internet is a great tool for everyone and we could all do a lot to take it back from the vitriolic, bile spewing trolls!

235 Crystal July 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Great post! You should write one of these more specific to online dating. :)

236 Steven L July 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm

This includes a lot of items I have been trying to teach my children about the internet.

Loved this post and love this site!

237 Guilherme Calçado July 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Really made me thinks. It’s a nice post indeed,thanks.

238 Max July 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I have enjoyed every article I’ve read on this site, and this one is no exception. Very well written, and also very important points as younger generations “come of age”. Well done, as always! :)

239 Lauren July 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Well, I’ve certainly been enjoying these articles for at least half a year now, so I’ll add my voice to say, great job! The articles are well written, interesting to read, and keep you thinking. Always enjoyable, and this one here is certainly all of those things.

240 Tina July 11, 2013 at 3:39 pm

*wild applause*

241 Mark M July 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

You’re the scum of the earth and should be eliminated forthwith.

Just kidding….well thought out piece. My thanks!

242 Danielle July 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Oh bravo! I have been enjoying this website immensely — the articles are always thoughtful, useful and entertaining. This is just the gem in the crown — thank you for words like these, and helping to keep our men gentlemen.

243 J.J. Vicars July 14, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Excellent post!!!

244 Christian October 9, 2013 at 11:58 am

Great post!

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