If you’re anything like me, you’ve been involved in an e-argument at one point or another. Before I developed a more level head, I used to go back and forth with people for extended periods of time about hot topics. These days, I seldom engage in these debates. Instead, I use that energy to create my own content under my own brand.
But, since it’s part of my nature to challenge the status quo, I do still find myself engaging in online debates from time to time. As an online content creator, it’s impossible to completely avoid conflicts online. Over the years, I’ve developed a few tactics to keep these discussions as civil as possible, at least from my end.
Here are a few of my tips for engaging in civil disagreements on social media.
Stick to the topic.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you are debating or discussing a topic on social media, stick to the topic at hand. People will often try to veer you off topic and discuss things that happened 20 years ago, things that aren’t relevant to the topic, or things that will evoke an emotional response. People will also use anecdotal evidence that you couldn’t possibly prove or disprove. Stick to your points only about the topic at hand.
Do NOT curse at people or use foul language.
Again, this may seem like a simple concept, but when people are insulting you, it can be easy to insult them right back. Don’t do it. Keep a level head and stick to discussing the topic. While you don’t have to tolerate insults, you also shouldn’t take them personally. The people behind the computer screen don’t know you personally, so their accusations against you are guesses at best.
On Facebook especially, people will click on your name, and look for as much information as they can gather about you on your profile. They will then use that information to make personal comments to you that have nothing to do with the topic. As annoying as this is, there isn’t much that you can do about it besides ignore it, and stop going back and forth with that person.
Remember that some people will take it personally when you share an opposing or controversial opinion about a topic. Be mindful of what you choose to post, and don’t post anything that you would be embarrassed for the public or your employer to see. Most of us in the “millennial” generation have made this mistake before, but it’s best to fix it moving forward.
Do NOT reveal personal information.
Although some information will be public on your profile and on your website, if you are a blogger like me, don’t reveal personal information about yourself unnecessarily in a debate on social media.
When some accuses you of something, “You must have voted for _____!” or “You must be bitter because _____!” your first instinct may be to defend yourself from the allegation. If you do, you will be revealing personal information about yourself that you don’t need to share.
You aren’t obligated to defend yourself, your life, your actions, your political opinions, your religious views, your business decisions, or your family matters. Refer to the first point, and stick to the topic at hand. If someone asks you a personal question, gently point them back to the topic at hand.
Learn when to disengage.
When people start engaging in the conduct I described, including name-calling, personal accusations, and generally rude comments, you may simply need to disengage. You don’t have to “prove” anything on social media. You can sometimes simply share your opinion, and move on.
People don’t have to agree on topics, and we mostly won’t all agree on controversial issues. I would love to see people develop a way to respectfully disagree with one another, while sharing diverse viewpoints on different topics, but as a society, we aren’t there yet.
You may also need to disengage when you are simply spending too much time debating on a topic. If you aren’t gaining anything from the conversation, and it’s zapping your energy, you need to redirect your energy to something beneficial.
For example, if you are passionate enough about a topic to debate it for hours, perhaps you should blog about it or write a book. Use the principles of mental alchemy to turn your negative energy into something productive.
When a topic is just too hot, or if you feel too passionate about an issue to discuss it civilly, then don’t discuss it online at all. Better yet, take a break from social media.
Know when to block and delete.
If a person is simply too rude or disrespectful, block him or her and delete him or her from your friends/follower list. You are under no obligation to share your online space with people who disrespect you.
I tend to share unpopular opinions from time to time. I noticed a person that I went to school with many years ago would always pop up under MY posts with a negative comment directed specifically at me. Eventually, I blocked her. She clearly had a personal issue with me.
Although I went to school with that person years ago, I never do, and likely never will see her again in person. There is no reason for us to engage online. The world of social media makes people feel entitled to have access to all of their friends, family members, colleagues, and fellow students. But, you have the right to limit that access at any time.
Recognize the positive aspects of social media.
Social media can absolutely be a positive force. I have had many healthy, productive conversations on social media. I also obviously enjoy blogging, and maintaining an active online presence. I don’t think I’ll ever stop debating people about topics that I’m passionate about. But, I know that I need to respect other people online and demand respect in turn.
Interactions online don’t have to be antagonistic. Find social media spaces where you can connect with like-minded people and support one another. Also, balance the time that you spend consuming content, following people online, and engaging in debates and discussions with your time spent creating content that helps and inspires other people.
Ultimately, the goal in to not only have civil discussions online, but to create content that truly makes a difference.