Participating on the Web

New Standards of Conduct

Cultural norms and values shape a society's definition of acceptable behavior. On-line standards of conduct are founded on the norms of the society in which a network is set, but these broader norms and values are often challenged by the character of human interaction in electronic networks. Networks stretch across societies that have different values and traditions. The computers that form them have capacities that allow people to do things they could not do before--and to do so with anonymity. Finally, the networks, new as they are, have their own social history, in which somewhat different norms have been formed. The people who have so far populated the virtual community have tended to value individuality, free expression, free exchange of information, anarchy and nonconformity more than other groups. Acceptable behavior on the networks, therefore, has slightly different standards. These may change as many more people join the networks. But, so far, the less conventional on-line standards of conduct have been jealously guarded by long-time network users. These users generally are people who have strong feelings about the shape of life on their various networks and about what shape it will take in the future. New users of the Internet and of various smaller networks should be aware that they are entering an unconventional social community.

Issues of acceptable behavior in the networks include simple standards of civility to questions of rights and responsibilities in distributing information that have not yet been clarified in law.

Netiquette: How to Behave on the Networks

Netiquette, or on-line civility, is a matter of common sense and of remembering the context of behavior. The Internet's emphasis on free expression, for instance, has meant that what might be considered rude elsewhere will often be tolerated on various networks in order to protect the principles of individual expression. Groups discuss every conceivable subject, obscenities flow on some parts of the Internet, pornography flourishes. Some people make a game of verbally hassling one another. Rather than squashing individuality with broad regulations, system administrators have so far tended to referee or negotiate specific situations in which conflicts occur. However, activities that would be questionable off the networks should be approached with some judgment and kept to the parts of the networks (in bulletin boards established for a specific purpose, for instance) where those who would be offended can avoid them.

Some Activities That Will Offend

Specific activities that do offend most network users usually occur when the capacities of computers for allowing rapid, efficient communication and for giving access to other people's systems are misused. So, for instance, sending a rambling message to everyone with an e-mail address at the local state university is not considered appropriate even though computers make sending such a message relatively effortless. Unsolicited advertising is especially resented and will get an equally unsolicited reaction. In one case, a law firm's efforts to advertise over the Usenet prompted one young man in Norway to launch a cancelbot, a message that automatically destroyed the firm's transmissions every time it sent out an advertisement. He was applauded by other Usenet participants, although his actions did raise concerns about wider use of arbitrary censorship.

Some simple guidelines to on-line civil behavior follow:

People who become too obnoxious can be banned from a system or simply ignored. A "kill file" will automatically erase messages sent from a person who has become intolerable.

Some sources on netiquette:
The Ten Commandments provides a basic outline for acceptable behavior on-line.
The Net User Guidelines and Netiquette provides basic guidelines in netiquette to users at Florida Atlantic University. It also includes a bibliography on proper conduct.
Ethics and the Internet outlines the principles of responsible use put forth by the Internet Activities Board.
Netiquette 101 by Hope Glass provides some general rules of courtesy.
Netiquette Guidelines by S. Hambridge at Intel Corp.


Existing Law is Challenged by Electronic Information Systems

The fluidity of information on the networks has caused some confusion about how copyrights and intellectual property rights apply to electronic files. In the relatively small world of the original network users, an emphasis on free exchange of information and a common understanding of intellectual property allayed most potential conflicts over use of information. Now, as the networks grow larger and attract a broader range of people, some clarification of how electronic files may be used is becoming necessary. The ease with which electronic files can be distributed and the nature of some electronic information create problems within existing copyright law: either the law does not address the peculiarities of electronic information or the law is too easily subverted by the ease with which files can be copied and transferred. Similar problems have arisen with photocopy machines, VCRs, and tape recorders. To make matters more complex, other countries may have different copyright laws, so information made available globally through a network may not have the same protections in other places.

Existing U.S. Copyright Law Provides Some Guidance

While the law does not always provide clear guidelines to rights and responsibilities even within the U.S., a familiarity with basic existing copyright principles should keep most network users on ethical grounds.

For further information on copyright laws, see the sources for this discussion:
Copyright Basics
Copyright Issues by University of Oregon, School of Law
Ideas, Methods, Systems: What Is Not Protected by Copyright
Fair Use
Reproduction of Copyrighted Works By Educators and Librarians
Works NOT Protected by Copyright
Copyright Act of 1976, As Amended (full text of the Act)
International Copyright

Additional information about these and other issues is included in Ethical Issues in Electronic Data Systems by Margaret Lynch, The Geographer's Craft Project, Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin.

Activity 2: Digital Aerobics

Practice with E-mail, the Internet, and the Worldwide Web.


1. E-mail a "howdy" message to your instructor and one to your teaching assistant (if you have a TA for your class).  Attach a copy of the results of the "Treasure Hunt" you completed for Web Warmup Exericise 1.  If you have already e-mailed the results to your instructor, send a message asking a question about the course or assignments.
The purpose of this step is to establish effective e-mail communication with your instructor. Please use e-mail whenever you have questions, need help, or have ideas to share.

2. Send a "thank-you" message to the author or compiler of your favorite Web site and "CC" a copy of this message to your teaching assistant.  It helps to pick a site that is run by an individual, rather than by a corporation, government agency, or educational institution, as you are more likely to receive a personalized response.  Also, write a message that asks a question or seeks a response that might serve as the start of a dialog.
The purpose of this step is to make contact with someone in the Internet who shares your interests and, perhaps, to begin an e-mail dialogue. 

Internet and Worldwide Web

3. Download a copy of the text of the Web Warmup Exercise 1 exercise to disk or the hard drive using the browser's "Save as" command.  Save the copy in either "Plain Text" (.txt) or HTML (.html) format.  Once you have saved the file, open it in Word, type your name and the date at the top of the file, and then print the edited file to paper. Put the printed copy in the assignment box in room GRG 302.
The purpose of this step is to make sure you are familiar with saving class materials in digital form, how to edit them and, finally, how to use the lab's network printers.

4. Print a copy of this "Digital Aerobics" page directly from your Web browers. Write your name and the date on it and put it in the assignment box.
The objective here again is to make sure you are familiar with the page setup and printing process, but this time executed directly from your browser.  There is rarely need to print from the browser (since the files are usually more useful when saved in digital form), but you need to know the steps and options. 

5. Prepare materials for your homepage and publish it in the Web
The purpose of this step to introduce the Web publishing process.  You will create many more pages, but the publishing process will follow the same basic steps.

Write a one or two paragraph "biosketch" to include in your homepage.

Choose a photograph of yourself or of one of your interests. Scan the photograph as described in class and compress it into .gif form.  Store this image on a diskette in a folder named "gif." Use your last name as the name of the file, for example: foote.gif.

Combine your biosketch and photograph to create a homepage like the example found here, using the procedure explained in class. You can create the homepage with Netscape Composer, Word 97, or other authoring software. When you save the file on diskette, be sure to use your last name as the file name, for example: foote.html

Transfer the HTML file and the compressed photograph to our Web publishing area using the FTP program, as explained in class.

Check that your page works.

These materials may be used for educational purposes, but please acknowledge their source and author. The section entitled "Acceptable Behavior on the Networks: New Standards of Conduct" is authored by Margaret Lynch, The Geographer's Craft Project, Department of Geography, University of Texas, Austin, Texas. Please send comments and suggestions to Ken Foote at

Page created on 10/27/97 by Jennifer Allan Goett. Last revised 2000.1.24.