How to Disagree Online (and Know When to Bow Out)
It seems like everyone on the internet today has an opinion — about politics, about health care, about virtually any topic — and is ready to take a stand. A simple post or shared article can rub someone (including you) the wrong way, and the gloves are off, with Caps Lock enabled as the weapon of choice.
Part of this behavior stems from people feeling bolder while online. Compared to in-person discourse, social media can provide a sense of protection from the consequences of harsh words. This is known as the online disinhibition effect, and it can lead to conversations filled with internet trolls and keyboard warriors that often get nasty. But things don't have to sink to those levels.
The following strategies can help you navigate these heated discussions and quickly recognize when it's time to walk away and find something else to do.
Don't Make It Personal
When arguing online, go after the message, not the messenger. It's far too easy to just start hurling insults at the other person because they don't agree with you. But that doesn't help you make your case. If anything, you create a negative impact on the outcome.
Instead of getting personal, focus on the statements with which you disagree. If you can't keep things from getting personal, it's time to step away.
Take a Few Deep Breaths
It's always a good practice to pause and think about your response before reacting to someone, both online and off. When you feel yourself getting riled up by a conversation online, take a few deep, calming breaths before you post.
When we respond before reflection, we let our anger do the talking. It's the same as when you get a critical email at work or from a family member. Responding right away can lead to saying things you later regret. If taking a few deep breaths doesn't calm you down, try going for a walk. Should that not work, you may want to end the conversation.
Don't Assume People are Being Untruthful
When you're in a heated online discussion, it's easy to assume the other person is exaggerating reality when they present a point of view that is different from yours. But calling people out and expecting them to prove themselves to you won't lead to a productive conversation and will likely result in further conflict.
Instead, take a few minutes to research what's being said, then respond based on your findings.
Limit Your Replies
When you get into an argument online, it has the potential to take up loads of time and potentially ruin an entire day.
Instead of spending all day arguing on your computer or smartphone, set an engagement limit — either a specific number of replies or a time limit. Once you hit that limit, you're done. Don't post any more comments, stop looking at the post, and move on with other activities.
Take the High Road
Sometimes the best way to deal with an argument on the internet is to simply take the high road and walk away. Arguing, in general and with people online, often brings nothing but frustration and negativity to your life.
If you see a conversation blowing up into a fight, walk away. It's not worth your time or your energy. Plus, walking away is better for your mental health.
As much as possible, be kind to those you interact with online. Remember, they're human. They could be having a bad day, or going through something terrible in their life (and feeling the need to take it out on someone — though that's no excuse).
Responding with kindness has been proven to reduce stress, promote happiness, and improve overall well-being. You might not win the argument, but at least you walk away with your own personal victory.
FAST FACT: A keyboard warrior is a highly opinionated person who likes to argue online.
Please Don't Feed the Trolls
Trolls are people who cruise the internet and look for ways to get others — usually complete strangers — riled up. They want to disrupt conversations and attract attention. Here are a few things you can do when encountering a troll:
- Ignore them. Just like with any bully, the best way to avoid people who don't make you feel good is to ignore them. Trolls eventually lose interest and go away when they see you're not engaging.
- Use humor. A little humor goes a long way, especially in a tense situation. If you find yourself dealing with an internet troll, try to diffuse the situation with humor.
- Block or ban. If the troll won't go away, block or ban them. All social media platforms give you the ability to block someone from your feed, meaning you won't see anything they post anymore.
How are trolls different from cyberbullies? The latter target specific people with their mean words and hateful comments to shame, humiliate, and intimidate.