How to Survive a Fight on the Internet

by Clara Butler

This won’t end well.

I was the unfortunate recipient of some backlash on my newsfeed the other day for posting this video. While I’ll admit it is extremely biased, I loved the point that the woman was making and decided to share it with my friends on Facebook. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about having open discussions about different issues (including this one), but things got a little out of hand. Therefore, I’ve written this handy guide on how to survive a fight on the Internet.

1. Think of it not as an argument, but a discussion.
I may or may not have had to keep reminding myself of this (accompanied with deep breathing) because although it seems like each person that comments wants to win, the point is not who can argue better, just that everyone comes away with a new understanding of the situation. By thinking critically about the different aspects of any issue, we can a) strengthen our own opinions and b) consider ones we may not have thought of before.

2. Use “I” Statements
Okay, so I know this is probably what your fourth grade teacher told you when you got into a fight over who could be Baby Spice when acting out the latest Spice Girls video on the playground, but “I” statements work really well when having discussions. I think (see what I did there?) that they work so well because if you start by saying that it is YOUR opinion, you are less likely to directly attack the other person’s (ex. you are wrong because x, y, and z). Also, by starting with your opinion, you are telling the other person that this is what you specifically feel rather than making a general assumption about what everyone in world should feel. No one can deny what you think, feel, or believe about a situation, so by making “I” statements what you’re saying is already valid. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider others’ opinions.

In the end, it’s just Facebook.

Although this should be self-explanatory, remembering that there are actually living human beings on the other side of that computer screen can be helpful, especially in times of complete frustration. Even on anonymous forums or websites with obscure usernames prohibiting you from directly knowing whom you are talking to (I’m looking at you Club Penguin), it is important to remember this other piece of advice you were taught as a child. Don’t resort to name-calling, shaming, or any other degrading behavior to reinforce your argument. Not only does it make you look petty, it turns the conversation into a boxing match to see who can inflict the most damage rather than a dialogue where mature people can discuss things openly.

4. Ask questions and be clear!
If you don’t understand the point someone is making, ask them to nicely explain their opinion. It has been reported that 76%* of Internet debates start because of misunderstandings and 84%* of people said that they do not edit their comments before hitting submit. To have a productive conversation that adequately incorporates two (or more) differing opinions, being clear and concise is key. As someone who has a lot of trouble articulating her thoughts sometimes (“I coffee can small have?”), I know how hard it is to limit your argument, especially to 140 characters. But changing a single word can make a huge impact on how well someone else understands your point.
* These findings are completely made up.

Eventually you have to cut your losses and move on.

5. Know when to stop.
If it is clear that the conversation is not productive, or those involved just keep looping around and repeating themselves, it might be time to quit. Leaving a conversation does not mean that you gave up or that you lost, it simply means that you have gained all the understanding that you possibly could from the situation. Let’s face it, we don’t have time to sit and debate for hours on end over the Internet and if you really feel the conversation slowing to a halt, laying down your sword (aka your keyboard) is always a wise move.

So before you un-friend that guy that trash talks the Beyoncé video you posted on your wall, take a deep breath and remind yourself of these five key rules. And remember, even though he might not understand how fierce she is, that doesn’t make him any less of a person. Okay, it kind of does. But only because it’s Beyoncé.

Clara Butler is a sophomore at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Vornasblogi, Admiral Creedy, and someecards.


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