ADVERTISEMENT

The speed of modern communication combined with multi-tasking and an itchy trigger finger on “Send” often gets us into all manner of cyber mischief.

, Associated Press - Ap

Online blunder? What to do next

• Honesty is always the best policy. Be upfront about your mistake.

• Most people will give you another chance to redeem yourself. You’re much better off taking responsibility for your blunder than blaming it on someone or something else.

• Respond with a written apology. Do not make a lot of excuses. Make it short and sweet and end the conversation online.

How to deal with reply-all mishaps and other online disasters

  • Article by: Angela Hill
  • Oakland Tribune
  • May 13, 2013 - 9:25 AM

Such are the physiological and psychological responses that occur upon accidentally sending a steamy text to the wrong person. Or Google chatting more than one person at a time and mistakenly sending your boss a sassy critique of the latest “Real Housewives” episode. Or, worst of all, tapping the dreaded “Reply all” button and propelling a snarky e-mail about your supervisor companywide. Quick, someone get the shovel.

Marc Mastel of Minneapolis knows the feeling.

In a rush one day, Mastel thought he had sent a cute text message to his girlfriend. Little did he know, he had opened Twitter instead of the nearby text messaging app on his phone’s home screen and tweeted, “I love you” — plus an intimate pet name — to about 200 followers. A couple of hours later, when he had a chance to check his phone again, he realized the mistake.

“It was mildly embarrassing for me but even more embarrassing for her,” said Mastel, 29. “She got some crap for it.”

He deleted the tweet, and moved his Twitter app icon away from the texting icon, lest his fingers slip again. Lucky for him, his girlfriend stuck around.

“It’s one of the follies of the ease of communication these days,” Mastel said. “The ease of mistakes is also greater.”

You’d think we’d all know better by now.

After all, e-mail is hardly new, and most everyone’s gotten the hang of smartphones, texting and social media. Yet the speed of modern communication combined with an itchy trigger finger on “Send” often gets us into all manner of cyber mischief.

Online mishaps can certainly be funny — an embarrassment of glitches. Who can forget the “reply-all-pocalypse” of November when New York University student Max Wiseltier received an e-mail from college administrators about a tax form, which he tried to forward to his mom saying, “Do you want me to do this?”

A slip of the mouse later and Wiseltier had sent that simple query to all his fellow 39,979 students on the listserv. Thousands upon thousands of them then replied-all back, mocking him, adding jokes and comments, turning the innocent mistake into an Internet phenomenon and getting Wiseltier on everything from ABC News to “Jimmy Kimmel.”

Reply-alls are like rabbits

But serious consequences can happen, too. Jobs have been lost, relationships altered. E-mail “storms” — when people “reply all” to “reply all” messages over and over, multiplying like rabbits in everyone’s inboxes — can overload servers and shut down critical systems. Some research has shown that at least 15 percent of an average office worker’s day is spent on e-mail, and 5 percent of those received are of the “reply all” variety.

These mishaps have become such a problem that some versions of Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail systems provide a way to disable/enable the evil “Reply all” button. Applications, such as Sperry Software’s Reply to All Monitor, are on the market, providing pop-ups that ask “Are you sure?” when you start to respond to multiple recipients. And Gmail offers an “undo send” button and the option of setting a five- to 30-second delay in your outbound messages, so you have a small window to fix a mistake.

Still, programs can only do so much to mitigate user error. There’s no pop-up window for stupid.

Own your online mishap

Mistakes still happen to the most careful among us. And once you have made a big one, then what? How do you recover?

“You should face the music,” said Sue Fox, California-based author of “Business Etiquette for Dummies.” “Take a deep breath, stay put and face the consequences honestly and apologetically. Possibly you can use a little humor, but be careful you don’t make the offense worse.”

She added: “If you’ve made an online faux pas, the worst thing you can do is disappear, change your e-mail address, close your Twitter and Facebook accounts, vow to move out of town, assume an alias and never communicate with that person or group of people again as long as you live.”

In other words, digging a hole just gets you in deeper.

 

Star Tribune staff writer Katie Humphrey contributed to this report.

© 2014 Star Tribune