The Internet is a wonderful if confusing world – and that’s why you sometimes need to be pointed in the right direction. Lucky for you, some of us spend far too much time online and logged in – and that wealth of experience translates into some social networking know-how. Consider Miss Netiquette (who you can reach at email@example.com) your guide to Web manners, and this week, she’s going to give you some tips on how to use email without freaking everyone out.
Email seems old school now in the age of Snapchat, Facebook, and a myriad of social media options, but it’s still an extremely important method of communication – and it often involves professional communications. What you do in an email matters – people can go back and re-read them, and it’s considered a more formal measure of communication than tweeting at someone or sending them a Facebook Message.
Dear Miss Netiquette: I’ve had the same AOL account for years now, but apparently I’m sending everyone on my contact list spam. It’s time for a new email address. Just wondering which service you think is best – Yahoo? Google? Something else?
It’s definitely time for a new email – using an AOL account basically signals the world that you’re not net-savvy. It’s like wearing a digital sign that says “I can’t believe all these Nigerian princes have been defrauded!” And it might seem frivolous, but if you’re job hunting or sending out professional or serious emails, you need to know that people are judging you by both your address and the domain you choose. Now, Yahoo and Hotmail aren’t awful, but they tend to produce more spam, and Gmail is generally considered the most respectable of the big domains. So go with Gmail if you can. If you’re in school, you can use your university’s email system – though, at least in my personal experience, Gmail is easier to navigate than most university email domains.
So Gmail will make you look the savviest, but besides appearances, it’s also just the best of the big email clients, for a number of reasons. Unlike Yahoo and Hotmail, it lets you send files up to 10 GB, so it’s really easy to send your friends some MP3s or make sure your aunt gets every last Myrtle Beach vacation photo you took. And if you want to make a quick phone call or have a video hangout, you can do it all from Gmail – which is awesome for traveling, or when you’re making an international call. In some countries, you can even send a text message from your email account. And Gmail makes it really easy to label your emails and prioritize important contacts.
Dear Miss Netiquette: FML. I wrote a really snarky email to my friend at work, but I accidentally hit “Reply all.” I made fun of like, half my colleagues. How do I minimize damage and avoid getting both fired and murdered?
Reply all has destroyed many a friendship and career, I suspect. You really shouldn’t be writing nasty emails on your work email account to begin with, so hopefully you’ve learned your lesson and your story will teach other people that the potential for disaster is just too great.
Here’s what you do: Go talk to your boss and get ready to grovel. I don’t care if you’re being faker than Dolly Parton’s hip-to-waist ratio. Just act like you feel bad. Say you were having a terrible day and acknowledge how inappropriate your comments were. Then, because you (hopefully) still have a job and have to work with all the people you bad-mouthed, do something nice for them. Send them an “I’m sorry I badmouthed you” Starbucks card. And if you can’t deal with talking to them all face-to-face, write individual apology emails once again explaining that you were trying to make yourself feel better by talking negatively about others.
And next time you don’t have anything nice to say and you can’t resist an old-fashioned b*tch session, DON’T USE YOUR COMPANY EMAIL.
In fact, that rule applies for any time you’re doing something NSFW. It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it: Pornography and work emails don’t mix. Any sex stuff and work emails don’t mix, unless you work at Playboy. Your bosses can read everything. So only write stuff they’d want to read.
Dear Miss Netiquette: I know that there are lots of people trying to scam you, but I’ve been having the most remarkable email correspondence. This woman from Burkina Faso was left an enormous inheritance from her father, and she wants to transfer it into my bank account to get it out of the hands of a greedy security company. She insists it’s 100 percent risk free, so I don’t think I have a chance of losing money, even if she never ends up giving me any of the $1.3 million. What do you think?
Guys, no stranger is ever going to need to transfer money into your bank account. This is a scam. It’s always a scam. If you think something is too good to be true, it probably is. Do not give this person any more information and if you’ve already given them your bank information, call the bank immediately and ask them for help. Then take a look int he mirror and say to yourself “No one will ever just randomly give me a ton of money, and especially probably not anyone from the African continent.”
Dear Miss Netiquette: My dad will not stop forwarding me chain emails, and it’s driving me crazy. Is there a way I can hide just his chain emails? I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
Maybe not all of them, but at least most of them. You can configure your spam filter in Gmail (and other email clients) to include keywords from his email address, so any time he sends you something with “funny” or “top 10” or “do not delete” in the subject line, you can banish it to the spam folder without hurting his feelings. You’ll just have to get good at bluffing when he asks you if you liked those pictures he sent you of celebrities and their animal lookalikes.
Dear Miss Netiquette: Everyone I work with loves freaking Twilight. And often, our group emails devolve into people telling jokes … about Twilight. This is frustrating because I get like 27 emails that I seriously don’t care about clogging up my inbox. I can’t opt out of the email chain though – because it’s the official office chain. And my boss is the biggest Twihard (ew) of them all. What can I do to spare myself the agony of Bella and Edward ‘shippers who love to hit “Reply All?”
So this is interesting because it’s quite a different “Reply All” office quandary than the snarky emailer. Some offices are uptight and professional when it comes to e-mail etiquette, but a lot play fast and loose with the concept of when it’s OK to forward everyone on your floor a screenshot of Amanda Bynes – or in your case, when it’s OK to make Twilight jokes (never). You’re in a sticky situation, and I don’t think there’s a way out. You can do what I suggested to the guy with the annoying dad and filter your work emails for the words “Twilight” – but it’s probably not a good idea to send work threads into the spam folder, in case something important comes up. You should set a good example and never frivolously mass email, and hope the others eventually realize the gross error of their ways.
Dear Miss Netiquette: My ex-girlfriend emailed me out of nowhere. We already deleted each other off of social media, and I haven’t talked to her in months. Is it rude to delete the email without reading it? I really don’t want to deal with her.
You have to think about what that email might say. Maybe her mom died and she wanted you to have a photo of the three of you together. That’d be pretty harsh to ignore, even if she cheated on you with the entirety of Columbia, Missouri, and she never bought you a birthday gift. It might be painful, but it’s probably smart to at least glance at it. If you really don’t want to have any contact again ever under any circumstances, it doesn’t really matter if you respond or not. But it is definitely rude not to respond, and I think you should at least write back to tell her that you don’t want contact, so she knows you’re not dead.
You should especially write back if you can tell she has a read receipt attached to it. After all, if she doesn’t know whether you’ve read it or not, she might think that you just don’t check that e-mail address anymore. But if there’s a read receipt and she knows you saw it, the alienation will be complete.
Read receipts are the scourge of electronic communication and should be banished into oblivion along with Compuserve, but as long as they’re an option, whenever you’re dealing with e-mail (or Facebook messages, or SMS) you need to accept that there’s a chance the person writing you will know exactly when you opened the communique and exactly how long it took you to respond.