Monday, 26 August 2013 16:36

Watch your Words in Cyberspace

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“You idiot! You are a bloody fool!  Who do you think you are? Do you know who I am?  You think you can just address me anyhow and get away with it?  I will show you…”

Fighting words for sure, but to be sent via email?  Never!  I recently withdrew membership of an organization wherein exchanging words like the foregoing were a common occurrence.  Hot words were traded in lengthy emails, on groups, and list serves that reached audiences of thousands internationally.  From this experience, I realized that many communicate similarly believing that cyberspace granted them carte blanche to be boorish and incredibly uncouth.  Beyond the air pollution this type of communication causes, they are deleterious to the progress of individuals, organizations, and nations.

Airing your dirty laundry in writing over the airwaves is a bad idea because it is a permanent, easily retrieved record.  Ten years after your inflammatory missive, you are running for higher office, someone pulls it up and you are cut down in size.   Further, negative conversation taints the image of an organization and sours the impression of a new or potential member.  It compromises goodwill in an organization and once that is lost, along with it go members, networks, net worth, cooperation, and collaboration.

Arguably, emails are tone deaf, however, it is difficult to think ‘lol’ when reading the phrase “you bloody fool!”  Emails though meant for private viewing are seldom kept within the intended audience so here are a few tips to keep your reputation Omoluabi and your organization, civil:

  • Observe uniform civility when addressing members.  Respect every member regardless of position or manner of speech.
  • According to Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People, ‘when the news is good, write; when bad, speak.’  Do not write rebukes, insults, and other forms of acrimonious speech to anybody and certainly, do not post on a group site!  Such speech stirs anger and tension both in the individual addressed and in the group as a whole.  Once the mud-slinging starts, nothing productive can be achieved because everyone whether accused or not, picks up arms.  If for instance, you start defaming the treasurer, the secretary begins to arm himself for fear of soon being implicated. An added advantage of speaking and not writing rancorous communication is that nobody can recall verbatim your colorful language and even if they could, they would not be believed.
  • Please do not “reply all” if your remarks are directed only at the person who sent the email.  This is often how most people get to hear of discourse best left between two principals.  On a lighter note, I recently got several congratulatory messages via ‘reply all’ which was meant only for the sender. On second thoughts, I guess I earned the kudos because in the African sense, a member’s success is that of the entire group.  Jokes aside though, send group emails only when the information is useful to everyone in the group.
  • Avoid listing everyone’s names in the addressee section unless they all agree to share their email addresses with everyone in the group.  Instead, provide a screen for recipients either through a group name or blind copy (BCC).  Why?  Some folks take liberty to add my [oops] email address to their personal lists just because we used to belong to the same organization.  [Note to person who emailed me about their service of songs for their late father; “I don’t know you nor how you got my email address!”]
  • Don’t hide behind email or other communication on cyberspace.  There is nothing anonymous about emails or comments on websites, chat rooms, and the like.  These days, it is much easier to trace commentary to their uncivilized owners.  So, engage civility and you won’t fear detection.
  • Be not that person who routinely sends out chain letters, virus warnings, or junk mail.  Don’t add your name to the list of cyber spammers who pass around urban myths and wicked concoctions such as the story about President Obama’s 19-year old son!
  • Keep your missives short and simple.  It serves no purpose to recount the life history of a cockroach to your recipient.  The shorter your stories, the quicker your recipients will read, respond, and act accordingly.
  • Use a disclaimer, not that it would help in some circles, to protect you in the event of a lawsuit.   Yours might read: “This email and its attachments are confidential and are intended solely for the use of the recipient. If you are not the intended recipient, take no action based upon them, nor must you copy them to anyone. Please contact the sender if you believe you have received this email in error.”
  • Finally, proofread before sending your missive in whatever language you choose to communicate before ọdẹ (watchman) becomes ọ̀dẹ̀ (dunce).  Though emails are primarily considered informal communication, they are increasingly used in formal ways.  So watch your language, reduce the slang, and check your grammar.

 Bonus: On Conference calls

  • Do not start a war by using defamatory language.
  • Draw up and stick to the agenda.
  • Keep speeches short and to the point (1 minute per participant).
  • Be respectful of others on the line.
  • Once you have made your point, allow others the privilege of making theirs.  Do not yell above another’s speech.  Remember, getting the last word is not a sign of victory but bull-headedness.
  • Be mindful of time.
  • Minimize background noise and distractions by muting your phones when not speaking.
  • All conference calls must be recorded and playback details made available to all attendees.
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Abi Adegboye Ph.D

Abi Adegboye began writing as a young girl growing in western Nigeria.  In a culture that reveres boys, she was born the second of three girls.  Certain she had to be her family's 'boy,' she climbed trees to harvest fruit, dressed chickens for dinner, caught mice, and whatever else required male-handling.  She also loved to read, write, and draw.  Her initial efforts yielded publications in local newspapers and newsletters.  However, she was advised to get a day job which turned out to be as a professor of political science.  This opened to her, a different avenue for publication in her areas of research including African women and development, women migrants, and the impact of public policy on women’s political economy.

On her 40th birthday, she rekindled her creative writing with the publication of Butterfly, a picture book and Reflections on Nigerian Christianity, a social commentary.  Since then, she’s co-authored Owanbe! Yoruba Celebrations of Life (2010), a cultural anthology and published Wanna B Prez? 10 Life Strategies from President Barack Obama’s Journey to the White House (2012), a YA motivational YA book, and Renike comes to America (2016), a novella.  

Abi writes multicultural fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults.  She shares her writing through speaking engagements, performances, storytelling, and classroom visits. 

For more information about Ms. Adegboye’s publications, or to connect with her, visit her

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