Once upon a time, in a land before social networking sites like Facebook, there were things called forums and newsgroups. Users like you and me hide behind anonymity, avatars and handles to share controversial, unpopular, thought-provoking ideas and opinions. These places were moderated by more responsible adults to fend off flamewars and prevent the topic from going offroad.
These days, we prefer places like Facebook which is full of interesting characters, friends and family members all coming together in a platform where people can argue, fight, troll, share and discuss everything under the sun – minus the presence of moderators.
However, since one man’s meat is another man’s poison, there are bound to be disagreements that would prevent otherwise good and calm discussions. Which is why we all need to have a thoughtful discussion about Facebook netiquette.
1. Post insightful updates
You can’t expect good discussions to come to you. However what you can do is to provide soil for good discussion to flourish. If you just post silly things all day, every day, you shouldn’t be surprised if people treat you like you can not keep up a mature conversation.
Start with talking about what you like or didn’t like about that new movie you saw. Give your opinion on the latest news and ask people for theirs. Soon enough, you’ll have interesting conversations in no time.
2. Be open to new ideas and opinions
A discussion is a two-way street, an exchange of ideas and thoughts. Ideally, you learn new things and insights, and the others do as well, and maybe there is a playful clashing of heads – but at the end of the day, both parties take away something good from the conversation.
When looking to start a discussion, always approach it with an open-minded attitude. There may be instances where the person you’re talking to may have a completely different opinion from yours, but even if you don’t agree with what they say, it’s still a new perspective to take away. All these encounters give you a learning opportunity that may provide even more discussion material in future.
3. Pick your battles (and friends)
Sometimes, it’s better to take your time with replying. That’s the beauty of the internet – it’s possible to leave a conversation to rest for a while, and then pick it up again at a later time.
Think things through, word statements carefully. There are people who are sensitive, but at the same time open to new ideas and perspectives – rather than scaring them away with blunt statements and observations, word them a little more carefully. (And who knows, you might actually help them gain more confidence with expressing themselves!)
However, if you run into someone who is incredibly hard-headed and just won’t budge, say, someone who insists on simply lecturing you, then feel free to unfriend these kinds of people. Again, it’s a two-way street – you both have to be open and receptive to each other’s ideas, otherwise, it will just be like talking at a wall.
Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"- Abraham Lincoln
4. Learn how their mind works
If you want to figure out how a person really tick, all you have to do is take a quick scroll through their Facebook wall, since that is more or less an unmoderated and unadulterated melting pot of their thoughts and opinions. Being aware of how a person ticks is really crucial in a discussion – this way, you can gauge how far you can take the limits of a discussion with them.
Do you happen to know that they are sensitive about a particular issue? Word your statements carefully when talking to them. Are they incredibly knowledgeable about a particular subject? Then level with them and do not be afraid of comparing what you both know. It’s the same way you talk to people in person. To some, you talk casually, to others formally.
5. Take everything with a grain of salt
I’m sure we’ve all been a victim of this in the past: "Every share this post gets, Bill Gates will donate 5 cents to (insert campaign here)", "Type amen or go to hell", or maybe it’s just me who fell for those things before.
But it goes even further – there are posts going around that blatantly make up stories to appeal to the hearts of people ("Doctor so and so invented the cure for cancer and here’s how"), misattribute famous quotes to the wrong people ("You must be the change you wish to see in the world." – Adolf Hitler), take a certain foreign word and give the wrong translation ("Necrophilia – the love for starry nights and the moon") , and it goes on and on. This is misinformation at its finest.
But you can do something about this – and even trigger really nice discussions! Whenever you see something that you know is wrong or fake, don’t be scared to point it out.
- Provide sources, links and explain how and why it’s wrong.
- If you know the full story, talk about that, too.
- Perpetuate the practice of always questioning everything on social media, even if friends are sharing it – and encourage others to do the same.
6. Treat people as you would like to be treated
Try to treat people as you would like to be treated, even if they are starting to become disrespectful. If you want others to approach your updates and statuses positively, do the same for them. Keep showing the same respect even if the person is obviously hiding behind a fake name and picture.
Give people the benefit of the doubt and allow them to explain themselves. If the person you’re talking to becomes hostile, try to find out why – dig a little deeper. There may be an issue that you haven’t been aware of before. If the insults and the name calling starts – again, give them the benefit of the doubt. It may just be the way they play around.
And most importantly, at any time you feel uncomfortable, make sure to express your sentiments – and encourage the other person to do the same.
7. Don’t get too emotionally involved
We’ve all probably had this situation before – there’s this one subject that’s really close to our heart, and we can’t help but feel very strongly about it. We might find the need to defend it, and sometimes, the subject at hand strikes a nerve in us. It happens.
For instance, for some people, it might be the subject of victim blaming, for others, it might be the gun control debate. We all have that one special topic that’s close to our heart and may make us a little more emotionally volatile than usual
The degree of one’s emotions varies inversely with one’s knowledge of the facts. – Bertrand Russell
At the end of the day, remember – it’s just an online discussion. Don’t take it personally. Anything that happens within your monitor should stay within your monitor – don’t let it affect your life outside of social media. Step back, inhale, hold, exhale. And then move on with your life; it’s no good letting things online affect things offline.
If your emotions are getting the better of you, drop the conversation and come back when you’ve cleared your mind.
8. Learn and educate through discussion
Before entering a discussion, ask yourself first: are you willing to change your thoughts if new facts emerge or are you here to attack someone’s beliefs? Are you here to helpfully educate someone or are you here because you had a bad day and you want to win an argument?
A discussion is more than just flinging smart comments at each other – it’s an actual exchange of thoughts, insights, and perspectives. It’s less about being right or wrong and more about a better idea of how the world works.
To use an example, the next time you find yourself in a heated discussion (or argument) with someone about religion, take your time to ask them how they actually think and feel. Probe a little – try to understand them and put yourself in their shoes. There’s a reason why people say the things they say, and if you truly wish to understand where they are coming from, you should probe deeper and find their motivation.
9. Introduce a new idea and be ready to defend it
If you want to promote good discussion, steer it towards something new, things that are controversial. Rather than just repeating what the majority already keep saying, try to display an original thought and see how others may react to it.
Be ready to be greeted with an array of different perspectives and ideas – not all of them necessarily something you might agree with. Start asking questions, offer hypothetical scenarios, and basically anything that would advance the discussion.
10. Write things that you can say in person
Always ask yourself, is this something I would say in person? If this person stood right in front of me, is this something I would be proud of saying, and something I think would contribute to the other person?
If your status, comment, the reaction is something you can’t stomach saying in person, then perhaps it’s better if you don’t say it at all. It’s easy to say things online – immediate repercussions won’t be felt.
A concluding look
Things won’t always go as planned – sometimes, bad discussions just happen. Someone might misunderstand what you were trying to say and ends up using your badly worded statement against you. Or you misunderstood someone and completely missed the point of the topic at hand. Don’t let that discourage you.
Learn from those instances and try to use the experience for future discussions. What’s important is that you keep on stirring up those good discussions each time you have the chance. The internet could use more of them.