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Digital etiquette in 2023: Can AI make online communications more polite?

Published on 29 January 2023
Updated on 19 March 2024

Digital etiquette will further evolve in 2023 with ChatGPT and AI-driven communication. Will AI be more polite than us? Can we reverse the trends of increased impoliteness and less critical debates online? Digital etiquette is much more than ‘being nice’ online. The fight for critical debates that are polite and helpful is the fight to keep the social fabric of societies intact worldwide. Let’s step back and take a look at the evolution of the digital etiquette, its current relevance, and future prospects.

What is digital etiquette?

Digital etiquette can be defined as the practice of having respect when communicating with others through online mediums. At a bare minimum, it’s the avoidance of offensive and hateful communication. At its best, digital etiquette requires respect for the feelings and opinions of others. It also requires our awareness of tone and language when we press send on social media or email.

Origins of politeness

Politeness could be traced back to the early days when people started living together as clans and families. The earliest written record of politeness we can find is from the Ancient era. Aristotle listed a set of values that included honesty, respect for authority, kindness toward others, modesty, trustworthiness, and loyalty. Later on in Roman times, Cicero’s work on rhetoric included important reflections on politeness as a key to social interaction.

Digital etiquette and politeness have evolved significantly from net etiquette via email practices to social media spaces. You can observe its evolution via my texts on e/digital/online politeness:

What is e-politeness | Email Etiquette | Protocol and epoliteness for the internet era | 4 online etiquette rules in for 2022

Areas of digital etiquette

Digital courtesy applies to all kinds of digital communication, from email and social media to newer forms like the metaverse. It also relates to all aspects of communication, from professional to family and private, with unavoidable overlaps. Digital behaviour is even more important in diplomacy and other areas where complex signalling is important. For example, sending tacit and ambiguous messages, even when they are constructive ones, could be risky in digital communication.

Tips for digital etiquette: Input for an AI politeness algorithm

As AI, via tools such as ChatGPT, will play a key role in digital communication, it could help us have more polite digital conversations. AI could help us spot hostile and aggressive language, and it could also make it less likely that we’ll be misunderstood. To achieve this, an AI politeness algorithm should be developed by combining explainable and interpretable methods as well as reinforcement learning or unsupervised methods. Here is a draft of tips that can help with the development of AI politeness algorithms:

Be courteous and respectful when interacting with others online.

Be aware of your tone – our words may not always communicate the intended message, so be sure to use appropriate language.

Think before you post – take a few moments to reflect on what you’re about to say before posting it.

Listen carefully to others and make sure that you can understand the emotional, social, and cultural context of your interlocutors.

Be factful – Make sure your statements and message are founded on facts and widely accepted truths.

Avoid offensive language – be mindful of your words and don’t use any derogatory terms or insults when communicating online.

Use overly informal language with caution, as it increases the risk of being perceived negatively or as not serious enough.

Avoid sarcastic comments or jokes when talking to people you don’t know very well.

Respect opinions that differ from yours.

Focus on what is being said instead of who is saying it.

Be clear and concise in your communication – avoid rambling or long-winded messages.

Take responsibility for errors and don’t blame other people.

Preserve harsh criticism for one-on-one and in situ exchanges whenever possible.

Be mindful of other people’s rights to privacy when engaging in internet activity – never share sensitive information without permission.

Suggestions for an AI politeness algorithm

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Conclusion: Human and AI politeness in 2023

The more we share and collaborate online, the more important digital etiquette will become. When we communicate online, we need to be aware that our words might affect others in ways beyond our control.  We must all work together to create a respectful environment, free from harassment and hate speech and full of critical debates.

In 2023, digital communication will increase in relevance for society.  With the advent of AI, we can expect to see more polite and respectful conversations on the internet. However, it is still up to us humans to ensure that we act politely.

We can draw inspiration from Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

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1 reply
  1. Muleza Mooya
    Muleza Mooya says:

    To create a win win situation,we need to foster politeness in our day to day discuss wether Insitu or otherwise.


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