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How Not to Contact People on the Internet

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a sporadic user of Couchsurfing.org. I truly think the website is a fantastic idea but I am not very good at checking up on it. In fact, I recently downloaded the app onto my phone in the hopes of getting myself a bit more involved. So far, my Couchsurfing experience has consisted of hosting two girls from Pompeii, meeting some people in Sulmona, and sending a few messages back and for about the various cities I’ve lived in. I logged back in the other day after a few weeks away and sent a few messages to people in the Sulmona/Pescara/Avezzano area. After all, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to widen your circle. So, I sent a few messages, got a few replies and it was all hunky dory.

Saturday, I was getting ready to go to my sister’s for the night and, as always, was running late due to my complete lack of time management skills. Yes, Dad, I know, I always leave everything to the last minute. Anyway, I noticed a message from a surfer, read it quickly and decided to reply later as it seemed he wanted quite a bit of information. Off I trundled to get the bus, watch some rugby and drink some beer, not giving the message a second-thought. Sunday was spent running round with a crazy dog, castle hunting and food shopping. Not exactly a restful day and so I didn’t have the time or energy to reply to the couchsurfer but made a mental note to reply to him Monday evening.

Monday afternoon rolls around and I’m at work, doing my best impression of an English language teacher (I’m kidding – I’m totally qualified, I swear). Up pops a message on my phone from the Couchsurfer demanding to know why I haven’t answered him. Now, this did not sit well with me and, when I got home, I told him exactly what I thought of him. Needless to say, it did not end well and I have since blocked him. This was my first truly negative experience on this site so, for Internetters everywhere, here is my guide to contacting people online, or, as my American friend would say, how not to be an asshat.

  1. Remember that you are talking to a real person
    So many people seem to forget their manners online. You may be tapping away on a keyboard and staring at a screen but there is an actual human being reading your messages. If you wouldn’t say something to their face, don’t say it over the computer. Especially if you are trying to open up a dialogue. Be polite.
  2. Be aware of language barriers
    Not only do you need to be careful of how you message people in another language, you also need to be aware of how your message will be perceived by the reader. It’s hard to convey tone through a message so, if necessary, be overly polite and, if you’re writing in a language that is not mother tongue, let them know. That way, any perceived rudeness may be forgiven.
  3. People have different priorities to you
    What you are contacting them about may be of great importance to you but not to them. If you need a quick response, don’t be afraid to mention so politely. But don’t harass them if they don’t respond immediately.
  4. People have lives offline
    Similar to the point above, people are busy. They have jobs and families and things to do that don’t involve sitting on the computer. They may read your message but not have the time to give it their full attention, and that’s okay. What you’re asking is probably not life or death so give them some time. If it is life or death, I suggest you call the police rather than sending messages online.
  5. Don’t demand a response
    If someone is not responding to you, it really is their business, not yours. They do not have to justify why they haven’t answered you. Don’t send more messages demanding to know why they haven’t answered. You’ll just seem needy at best and plain aggressive at worst. If you really need an answer that you simply cannot find anywhere else, send a polite message a few days later. Something along the lines of “I apologise for bothering you again but I would really appreciate the help. Obviously if you’re too busy then don’t worry about it”. More than likely you’ll get an apologetic message back offering help. Certainly don’t message saying “Why aren’t you answering me?!” like a certain person.
  6. People don’t owe you anything
    Just because a person is registered on a certain site doesn’t mean that they have to reply to every person that contacts them. There are no rules that say just because you are able to message someone, they are obliged to answer you. Maybe they’re busy or, quite frankly, maybe they just don’t want to reply. Either way, stop with your sense of entitlement. Nobody owes you anything. He didn’t answer your question? So what? Move on.

I know it’s hard in this day and age not to get worked up over an unanswered message. We see the little tick that shows the message has been read or we see their last login date and we want to know why they haven’t answered. Society has created this need to be constantly connected. We don’t understand why we are not other people’s priority. This thinking needs to stop. It’s not good for anyone and will only lead to more people being asshats, and we already have enough of those as it is.

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