Online decorum: A long, hard day of being nice on the internet

Challenged to follow Debrett’s ‘Netiquette’, Twitterholic Grace Dent managed about 10 minutes

"On Twitter, be punctilious in replying to questions, requests or information," Debrett's quacks officiously in its new hardback Netiquette manual. Which means that we're off to a bad start, me and these Debrett's internet people.

Their rules, written in impossibly small font on dark plum paper are as practical to read as scrabbling in a Qumran tunnel to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls. No real internet devotee – with their "efficient" attention spans – would endure more than 10 minutes with this book, which is a shame as I promised the editor I'd live with it for 24 hours. But after 10 or more pages of being berated about "texting a new mother" (oh no, never text, that's rude apparently, one must telephone new mothers, because everyone knows they love a long chat in the first days), or Debrett's rules on "having an over-glamorous avatar" (which is narcissistic apparently, because sure, like I'm going to make my profile shot me first thing in the morning resembling a seaside Alice Cooper tribute), I become rather cross.

Making a set of rules for the internet is impossibly hard. I should know, I wrote my own book about Twitter a year ago, which was based on four years of observations on the site. Any rule I set in place simply fired up a Twitter debate and a hundred variations were thrown back at me. Policing the internet is like herding cats.

"Always wait 24 hours before accepting a friend request to gather your thoughts," Debrett's says, undeterred. "Avoid sarcasm or subtle humour on the internet unless you know the reader will get it." Blimey, that's not just my Twitter account against the rules. That's my entire writing career. "Don't be a coward and say things in email that would be better said in person," says the manual. Hogwash. I'd argue a perfectly measured email making all your points crystal clear is a better use of your time than a three hour round trip to yell and burst into tears in someone's porch.

After a morning of referring to this book for advice, being punctilious and non-sarcastic in my tweets, I feel like walking to Debrett's head office with their Netiquette book on my head, shoulders back like a lady, and setting it on fire next to their "we heart Pippa Middleton" shrine. Who even uses the word "punctilious" anyway? Few people, I'd suggest, aside from Boris Johnson showboating on a podium and the berk who wrote this book, who clearly only uses the internet sparingly anyway, and then to clarify if the hunting ban is still in place or to track their Fortnum and Mason hamper.

By evening I have broken and retweeted a brilliant picture of a cat who'd sat on an iPad and accidentally snapped a shot of his lovely pink nose. To undoubted horror of Debrett's, I simply pressed "retweet" on this information without clarifying the name, weight or location of said cat. But, you see, I tend to see my Twitter account and my chats with 144,000 followers as "mainly a bit of fun", not an attempt to rival the Encyclopedia Britannia.

Other information in the book is simply wrong, such as: "Aggressive tweets are rude and will lose you followers." Oh how I wish this was true, but too many times I've seen some brutish wang hurl abuse at a celebrity and add thousands of "followers" in minutes. Idiots atracts other idiots like a magnet.

But by the end of the day, I've found the perfect use for Debrett's Netiquette. It's the perfect Christmas stocking filler for your enemy's parents. People whom have recently became vaguely web-savvy but need a helping hand. Golly, by Boxing Day they could be roaming Twitter ticking off people on the correct usage of less versus fewer, starting arguments with your Facebook friends for tagging unflattering picture of their little soldier or princess, and pointing out to Twitter couples that their publicly conducted romance does not "retain an air of decorum" (page 47). Or better still, taking heed of the "To blog or not to blog" section before firmly deciding "Yes, people need to read my no-holds barred, dense prose on my tireless battle with my leaky pelvic floor".

Of course the answer to the "to blog or not" question, 99 per cent of the time, is no. The world does not need any more rambling attention-seeking moans and subsequent dire counter-blogs and counter-counterblogs." In fact, everyone who spends their free time furiously blogging their woe – unless they're in a basement in Syria with something vital to report – should be forced to hand their laptops in at the Town Hall three times a week while they do star jumps in the park.

This Debrett's rule book has made me so cross I felt like writing another more hardline rulebook to counteract it. Instead, I wrote a furious piece for the newspaper, didn't reflect for 24 hours before emailing it to the editor and will be tweeting the link to my followers. I'm sure Debrett's would say I lack "decorum".

Rules for online decorum

1. Enjoy the silliness

Twitter is often people just being flippant, inaccurate or powered by emotion. Just being human. You don't have to batter with your sword of accuracy whenever you spot a mistake. No-one respects you for it.

2. You can’t reason with unreasonable people

Don’t waste your time on Twitter or Facebook trying to talk someone round who is clearly an imbecile. You may as well go outside and shout at the moon.

3. Don't pander to attention-seekers and drama queens

Be aware that you will meet people on Twitter who are addicted to internet sympathy and attention. Let the rest of the crowd deal with their dramatics.

4. Don’t be a dick

A thousand non-winnable debates on Internet freedom of speech, what is cyber-bullying and trolling could be solved by the rule 'don't be a dick'. If you are one, try not being one. It might cheer you up.

5. Go to bed

You don't have to stay awake every night until everyone on the internet knows you're funny and right. Try logging out and closing your eyes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?