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I should preface this by saying that I'm myself fairly young (a teenager) and I speak primarily to other young people. While I may not know their exact age, it's safe to assume they are either teenagers themselves or adults slightly older than me who have not stated their age. I use Twitter as a platform to speak to Japanese people, and generally in replying to their posts I'm talking about media, art, etc. and I'm not trying to say anything particularly meaningful.

That said, which is the proper way to speak under these circumstances, formally or informally? On the one hand, I haven't spoken to most of these people in private before interacting with them, but on the other hand communication online tends to be in the informal side in some context, so I am not sure if speaking formally would come across as excessive or on the contrary, if speaking informally would come off as rude. I see replies to Tweets in Japanese in both formal and informal form, so is it just a matter of choice?

To summarize, the use of formal or informal speech in online interactions in Japanese seems inconsistent to me, so I'm not sure which one I should use.

For example, in response to a post like

最近僕は描くことを考えるときに悲しくてなる

which would be a better reply?

[name]さんの絵が本当に大好きだよ!

or

[name]さんの絵が本当に好きです。

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    quick, but not comprehensive answer: if you both belong to the same generation (which is Gen Z) and they use informal conjugation, then do the same.
    – rebuuilt
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 23:00

2 Answers 2

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I don't think you can go wrong if you use the same formality as if you were talking to them in person.

If it's someone you don't know, then match their politeness level (as they also don't know you), or just stick to です・ます Japanese, which is also common.

Even if someone is younger than you (with the exception of kids), it is still common for adults to use polite Japanese until they are much better acquainted.

Many places online (for example YouTube comments) will have many people using informal Japanese, but it certainly isn't wrong to use polite Japanese either, as lots of people also do.

Between teenagers, informal is probably used a lot online.

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The poster has used 僕 (boku) which is a fairly informal way of referring to oneself as a young person so I think "[name]さんの絵が本当に大好きだよ!" would be acceptable and the よ at the end makes you sound quite emphatic that you like that picture. If you just want to be a bit more reserved in your praise then "[name]さんの絵が本当に好きです。" expresses that you like the picture but it's a bit less enthusiastic.

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    The vice principal at my school uses 僕 at work, and that wouldn't make it okay for me to use plain form with him. The point being that 僕 alone doesn't really tell you much.
    – Leebo
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 22:14

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