These days, just about everyone has a Facebook account. You can tell when a social media platform reaches a kind of population saturation when the kids move on to something else (the kids have moved on—it’s called SnapChat). Facebook is usually a kind of semi-innocuous time-suck. You log on to Facebook, you check in on your friends, get jealous of how happy everyone is (always traveling all the time), then log off.
But that’s not how Facebook is anymore. Indeed, since the beginning of the recent presidential campaign, Facebook has been flooded with, shall we say, vitriol. It seems that no matter who you might support, there is no shortage of people willing to tell you how wrong you are.
And that can make for a very uncomfortable social media experience. So is Facebook really getting more polarized? And if so, how do you do deal with it?
More Negativity on Facebook These Days?
It’s Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump in 2016. Unfortunately, both candidates tend to encourage strong opinions for and against. And there’s no shortage of information and misinformation about each candidate. My mother-in-law is a Clinton supporter and she experienced a kind of vitriol first hand.
Whenever she would post an article or a link supporting Clinton, others on Facebook (usually men) would tell in not so kind words how wrong she was and how horrible Clinton is. To be sure, this was uncalled for. There’s absolutely no reason to go on to someone else’s timeline and be mean—no matter what they’re posting.
And yet, it happens with stunning regularity, especially to women (yes, it happens to men too—but online harassment of women tends to be much more prolific, much more graphic, and much more vicious).
These types of comments tend to fall most commonly into these very unofficial categories:
- People who will try to debate you in an honest and sincere way
- People who will tell you are simply wrong about your facts
- People who simply resort to calling you names
- People who consider you stupid or brainwashed because you don’t agree with them or think something different
- People who will try to debate with you by linking to or quoting rumor or false information
It’s never pleasant when someone kind of invades your timeline with comments you’re not really looking for. It’s no wonder, then, that Facebook can feel a little more hostile than it used to. Even if you aren’t directly involved in this kind of post, my guess is that your timeline is filled with them.
How to Handle the Vitriol on Facebook
There are few ways you can defend yourself—or, rather, take control of these encounters. In many cases, your first instinct is going to be to engage and argue, to make your point as eloquently and passionately as possible. This is certainly a valid and laudable course of action. But it should be one that you make consciously and thoughtfully and you should not feel compelled to respond in such a way.
So here are some ways that you can respond if you’re confronted:
- Make your case. It’s usually best to do this in a calm and respectful manner—but you also don’t have to take anyone’s crap or stand for being disrespected if you don’t want to. In other words, use your best judgment. From a persuasive point of view, facts and restraint will often make the best weapons. Remember, you’re not only speaking to the one guy on your timeline who started the fight, you’re speaking to everyone who can see what you’re saying.
- Disengage. This is probably the easiest and the safest way to handle issues such as this. If someone is looking for a “debate” on your timeline, and you don’t really feel like dealing with it, then don’t. Simply don’t engage. You can engage all around that person, but you don’t even have to acknowledge his or her presence.
- Adjust your privacy settings. Facebook gives you the option to control (to a certain extent) who sees your posts and who is allowed to comment on them. It’s not foolproof, of course (some posts have a way of taking on a life of their own), but it’s a step to help ensure that random strangers aren’t constantly commenting on all of your posts.
- Unfriend and block. I know, I know. Unfriending someone these days is seen as tantamount to turning your back on them forever. But it’s not. It’s Facebook. And the best way to protect yourself from people who are being crappy to you is to unfriend them and block them. That way, you won’t see anything they post (and vice versa). It’s not really your fault they decided to invade your timeline in an unwelcome way. Trust me—Facebook is supposed to be a nice, enjoyable diversion. Don’t let anyone make it a cesspool of negativity for you.
After all, for many people, Facebook isn’t exactly optional. It’s how we keep in touch and how many people conduct business.
Be Civil Out There
At the end of the day, one of the best things to keep in mind on Facebook is this: keep it civil. If you disagree with someone, fine. But think about whether it’s appropriate or welcome for you to voice that disagreement before you do. It’s important.
I really do believe in the value of vigorously discussing the issues. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that. Rather, I’m saying that we should do so only when it’s welcome, only when it’s appropriate.
I’m also saying that you should be able to protect yourself if you feel it necessary to do so. Don’t hesitate. Because yes, Facebook is a little more vitriolic than usual these days. But that doesn’t mean your timeline has to be as well.