Years ago, I was chatting with a friend who was in the throes of a very bad day. I remember her telling me “Yeah, I’ve been getting on social media and arguing with strangers for the last hour.” I suggested she just get off the Internet for a while and she explained her bad day was separate, but it was her habit when she was in a bad mood to just start taking it out on people virtually, and at least they were strangers and not her own family.
At first this seemed oddly intentional to me, it had me wondering if I was friends with a troll. But then I thought about it some more and maybe she was just more insightful than I was. As I thought more about it, I realized that when I found myself locked in a stupid argument on social media with total strangers, I was usually in a bad mood too, so I started to pay really close attention to my behavior during an extended period of time and I started to realize I could eliminate the downfalls of the worst parts of social media by simply changing my own behavior.
The Joy of Social Media
Naysaying is easy, but I love social media. Because of my husband’s job we move a lot. Social media has made it much easier for me to stay connected with friends I have made all over the world and keep up with distant family that are always in my thoughts even if we don’t directly chat or see each other often. And when my three children were younger and I was home all day with them, social media was a lifeline to some level of adult contact.
The Obvious Pitfalls
But then there are times where social media can warp your perspective putting the worst impulses of people on full display in a nasty, confrontational, and somewhat cowardly (since you are not actually facing the person you are communicating with) way.
We are gearing up for yet another nasty election season and 2020 has been proven to be fraught with problems of all sorts. Therefore, social media this fall is likely to bring out the trolls as well as turn normal people into maniacs as only it has the unique ability to do. But you don’t have to shut down your accounts and run for the hills as many do (although if it’s bringing you down a social media break is always a healthy choice).
But it really is possible to never argue with anyone on the Internet. If you, or someone you know struggles with that, let’s look at what you can do.
If You’re in a Foul Mood, Go Outside, Not on the Internet
As noted above, hopping on people’s threads when you are feeling angry or generally foul is not a good idea. It’s super easy to take it out on some person spewing what you consider to be nonsense. But remember, this isn’t going to make you feel better.
Instead, try something that is known to be a mood improver like going out in nature for a little while, doing a workout, or reading a good book with a positive message. Like cooking? Great, go dive into a complicated gourmet meal. You get the picture. There are a lot of choices other than the Internet when you are having a crappy day.
Don’t Go Seeking Validation
This is a big one. You can post the most (seemingly) innocuous opinion on social media, but there will always be people that are upset by it. For instance, let’s say you just ate a Twinkie for the first time since childhood and it brought you back to happy times sitting on a playground eating twinkies with your friends and you really enjoyed the taste. So you post “I forgot how much I like these” with a photo of the cream-filled sponge cake.
Next thing you know, people will comment “gross”, “do you know how unhealthy those are?” “I hope you aren’t letting your kids eat that”… and so on. It quickly goes from you sharing what a happy memory Twinkies brought to your mind into a pile-on for you being crazy enough to eat one and have other people think it’s okay. Crazy town. And you may feel the need to then defend yourself. Next thing you know you are locked in a battle of wills between the pro-Twinkie crowd and the anti-Twinkie crowd.
But if you are not seeking validation, it is possible to just ignore the negative comments. When they stand alone, without response, those people look like the judgmental folks they are. Just let it go. If you are seeking validation, put it where it belongs, like form a “Hostess Cakes Appreciation Society” group and post it there. There is literally a group out there for almost everything, so if you want to chat about your love of Twinkies or how you hate cheese, there is a group out there of like-minded people that will support you. Seek support where it lies, not out in public where there are 10,000 opinions on everything.
Remember You Don’t Have to Be Right
Keep the Twinkie conversation in mind when you consider explaining to someone else why their position on junk food, politics, education, choice of vacation spot or anything else is wrong. Even if they are so wrong and just need to be educated. You don’t need to educate the world. It’s not your job, and even if it were, telling someone on the Internet how and why they are wrong about something never changed anyone’s mind. No really, it didn’t. So stop. If you need to smugly think to yourself, ‘man, that person is really messed up,’ do so, but inside your head. You do not need to type that out.
Do Express Support, but Not if an Argument is Already Raging
Just like no one likes to be told their thoughts and opinions are wrong, most people enjoy others agreeing with them, so if someone says something you like, go ahead and express it. In the best scenario, social media can actually be a really supportive pleasant place.
The caveat is that it’s not helpful if someone else is already out there in a battle with someone. You don’t need to join in… but wait, why not support the person who you believe is right???? Because there isn’t going to be any winner. Let that sink in a bit. We are talking about opinions on social media. These are strangers – and possibly bots or trolls – there will not be any “winner” so you can just stay out of it. Really, it won’t make any difference.
If you keep these things in mind, you may find you enjoy the entirety of the Internet a whole lot better and focus on what it’s good for: great pictures of travel, adventures, babies, puppies and kittens
Laura has been writing and editing for more than 25 years, a fact which more than a source of pride, sends her running to the wrinkle cream aisle of CVS. She has worked for CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, The Economist Intelligence Unit, and CBS radio. She has three children, and you will either find her thoroughly enjoying their company or yelling at them to clean up after themselves and turn off the lights.