This is a topic as old as the time human beings socially mingled with each other. Etiquette consists of the set of polite and good behavior among members of a society. It is as simple as smiling at somebody, or greeting and thanking others. It can also be a bit more complex as treating people the way we want to be treated, or speaking with humility and respect.

In matters of etiquette, the word that resonates is RESPECT: One respects other people’s persons, properties, privacy, space and time. The same respect operates even if we are not in each other’s presence, as in the case of interacting through digital social media. In fact, more so in the virtual reality of our current social media, because the handicap of not seeing each other while posting messages renders our messages more prone to misinterpretation. Then social media turns anti-social.

We therefore, have to be always certain that whatever we say or post in social media must be done with respect. First, because we owe respect to our fellow human beings, just as they also owe us respect; and second, because what we post in social media may be seen and read by the public or the people within our circle of friends, and it is not respectful to downgrade a person in the awareness of others.

What then are some of these rules of etiquette in social media? First, is always to reply to others’ posts with respect. If the words we use appear to be emotionless, we can add an emoji or a sticker that exudes goodwill. Second, we should not reply to argue, but to give additional information, and we should be clear about this. Third, if we have to contradict another person’s post and argue about it, we should instead post our divergent view on our wall, instead of insisting our ideas on the other person’s wall. We have to remember that interaction in social media is not about who is right in the end, because everybody is entitled to his own ideas and opinions, as well as to his errors and the way he thinks. Interaction in social media is all about relating well with others, and we definitely will not relate well if we keep on arguing among ourselves. Fourth, and we frequently and innocently forget this, if we have to have a private conversation with another person in the comments thread of a post, and the author of the post is not included, we should instead have the private conversation on our wall or the concerned person’s wall, or just message each other privately. It is disrespectful to have a private conversation on the post of someone when he is not even a party to the conversation.

Those are just some of the cardinal rules of etiquette when interacting in social media. Sometimes we forget these rules and just go on arrogantly and angrily lambasting other people while we are interacting with them. When I encounter such people, I keep in mind a personal response: When deleterious, delete.

Among us Muslims, let us treat our social media interactions the way we treat our da’wah. The first is to find a common basis to relay our message or undertake our discourse, as in the verse of the common word: “Say, O People of the Scripture, come to a common word between us and you: That we shall worship none but GOD, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside GOD. And if they turn away, then say: ‘Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)’”. [Surah Aal-Imran, 3:64]. If a common understanding is not possible, then ALLAH in the Qur’an advises us: “Invite to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and good preaching, and argue with them in the best way.” [Surah An-Nahl, 16:125]

The command of ALLAH is clear: When we interact with each other, we must first find common grounds for our understanding. If it is about theological matters, the common ground is the Oneness of GOD. If we are unable to find common ground, and we have to exchange different ideas, we should do so in a manner that is both “hasanah” and “ahsan”: “wa l-maw’izati l-hasanah wa jaadilhum bi l-latii hiya ahsan” which simply translates to “(invite) with good preaching and argue with ways that are best”.

This is a teaching that is more than fourteen hundred years old, but remains relevant today, particularly in our present interactions in social media. (MKS)

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