Step Away from the Keyboard: Tips for Avoiding Ineffective Online Arguments

The Internet is a Wonderland, isn’t it? It truly is a magnificent place where truth and fantasy collide, where the media we digest can make us feel either really large or really small, where rationality is optional. Indeed sometimes logging on can be a lot like falling down a rabbit hole. Take social media (no, really, please take it!). Hailed as a monumental leap forward in human communication, this truly is a marvel that has opened doors, created friendships, and given us a nearly instant way to keep in touch with loved ones and old school mates. It is a tool for sharing and learning, and has generated more cat videos and funny photos than any time in history.

It has also become a playground for marketers, a battleground for political agendas, and a cesspool in which haters thrive. The most negative and useless place on the Internet is the Comments section. That’s where people can broadcast the first thing that comes to mind, whether or not it’s kind, useful, or true. You know what they say, “Opinions are like a-holes.” Well, in the Comments section, you get to see a fair amount of both.  Honestly, it’s like sometimes people see something light or positive online and just want to spoil it.

And sometimes you just ache to respond. Someone makes a comment about a “stupid liberal” and your mind twitches like it’s about short out from all the things you could say in return. Someone else says “Democrats are all baby killers!” and, just for a minute, you think that a witty response is what they need to be lifted from their ignorance (you’re wrong; they won’t even read it). A racist aunt talks about how Indian people are “stealing American jobs” and you nearly throw your neck out with that huge eye roll you just gave her.

It’s best to just step away, for two reasons.

Keep the peace.

The best benefit of keeping your mouth shut (and your fingers off the keyboard) is not to keep the peace with these people. It is to keep the peace with yourself. Remember that you live your life according to your own standards. Don’t let these people drag you down into the muck with them. Often the urge to respond is our ego saying, “Oooh! Let me at ‘em!!” but, here’s the thing: our egos can be big jerks, too. It was that other person’s ego who made them write unkind words. Don’t put your ego into a dogfight with theirs.

Less garbage on the Internet.

The Web is full of crap that does no good whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong. It is a Wonderland. It’s a mixture of absolutely stunning beauty, community, support, love, and information. It is a place where people share and communicate good things; they actually converse to learn, grow, and lift each other up. However, it can at its worst be a snot-ball of vitriolic bile spewed forth from ignorant masses. In between those two extremes is a surfeit of comments that mean nothing, say nothing, and help nothing and no-one. Sometimes doing our part to make the world a better place means not making it worse.

Try these tips whenever you feel your blood pressure rising because someone bashed your favorite politician or shared an opinion that made you question the state of humanity.

1. Realize comments say more about the them than whomever or whatever they attack. Personal attacks are the hallmark of insecurity and immaturity. Of course, when someone says something we don’t agree with, our initial reaction may be, “that’s stupid!” The reactive among us will jerk knees and dismiss the other party as “stupid,” calling names and jabbing at them with our own version of the truth.  The more secure, mature readers would think it through and craft a more thoughtful response – if one is needed at all. So, ask yourself, “What does this post or comment say about the person who made it, and what would my response say about me?” Would I really be educating my aunt to politely inform her that she may be mistaken about a whole nation of people? Or would my comment really just be a polite way of calling her a racist ignoramus?

2. Take the High Road. People who troll and say nasty stuff online are picking fights, pure and simple. They are being jerks because the anonymity of the Internet gives them a voice and a place to channel their own inadequacies. It also gives them a tribe of other like-minded people to parrot their responses and make them feel validated. Don’t get sucked in. Let them be windbags while you go off and do something positive with your life and time instead.

3. Hide or delete posts that trigger your impulse to respond. The “Hide Post” option gets a lot of play in my house. Political attack posts and pictures of dead animals – always alongside their smug-looking killers (as if killing an animal should be fun!) – immediately get hidden. I’m still educated that the person who posted or shared this stuff is someone with whom I don’t share values (and in most cases, time); I don’t need to be reminded and repeatedly disgusted when the news feed refreshes.

4. Unfollow people who regularly post things that trigger you and/or avoid Web sites that do. You won’t miss them.

5. Distract yourself. Cat videos are fun. My distraction of choice is funny Husky memes.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying that meaningful dialogue and discourse are to be avoided. Nor am I advocating silence or allowance of inappropriate behavior. Please stand up to racism, bigotry, hatred, violence, intolerance, discrimination and all of those negative things that are seeing even more daylight in our New America, but do that in a way that does not ensnare you into a “battle of wits with an unarmed person.” Some people want to argue for the sake of  hearing the sound of their own voice. You, too, have a voice – and a choice on how to use it.


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One Response to Step Away from the Keyboard: Tips for Avoiding Ineffective Online Arguments

  1. Sherry says:

    Good job,Leanna,very ‘on point’!