ATTACK OF THE TROLLS: Tips and Tricks for Internet Debates

Hey everyone! Today's post is going to be about effective ways to debate on social media. It'll be fun, and hopefully it'll be helpful. Let's jump in! 

I don't know how much time y'all spend on social media (surely some more than others,) but for me, personally, it's disheartening to see how many people seem to have accounts simply for the purpose of getting into fights and tearing other people down. I'm only on two social media platforms, other than blogging (Facebook and Goodreads) and every time I get on them, I'm overwhelmed at how many times people who don't even know my name or anything like that want to get into a fight with me. The anonymity afforded by the internet is dangerous and leads to people saying things they shouldn't and often regret. I know I've done that, and I don't even engage most of the time.

Now look back at that paragraph and imagine if I'd worded it more like this: 

"I hate what social media does to people. It makes them stupid. Social Justice Warriors are a plague on this nation and they offend me. Facebook and Goodreads are the only platforms I'm on and just those trigger me! I hate social media and the people on it. Stupid people." 

Or like this:

"Bleeping bleep bleeps! Social media is bleeping bleep bleep and I think all the bleeping people on it are out to get me. Bleeping bleep and bleep. Bleep."

These may be bad examples, but they're different approaches to the same way of discussing things using social media. In person, it's easy to remember that you're talking to a living, breathing human, because you can see their face and they can tell you in real time when you've hurt their feelings. But when you're debating over the internet, something happens. We forget that the person we're talking to is a real person. We forget that words have an impact on them and can make their stomachs roil and cause them to lose sleep.

I think the most disturbing thing I've ever seen on the internet was when I was reading through the comments on a YouTube video for a song from Les Miserables. There were a lot of civil debates happening about who the best version of that character was, whether the scene did the song justice, and more. But then I happened upon another comment. I don't remember what it was that the original person said, but someone really, really didn't like it. 

When I clicked the "view replies" there were two. The first one said: "Just kill yourself." The second said, "Yeah. Please kill yourself."

Um, I'm sorry. WHAT?!!!!!! 

This is a prime example of what happens when you forget who the person on the other side of the computer screen is. You're talking to another person. But somehow it is so, so easy to forget that and somehow tell them they should commit suicide. 

This is a super long introduction, but my hope is to show you all just how much this matters. It may not be life or death in your case, but it could carry far more weight than you'll ever know.

Here we go. Some tips and tricks for how to effectively debate over the internet.

Don't engage. 


No, hear me out.

Sometimes, it's worse rather than better to talk to somebody. I know. Every day when I scroll through Facebook or Goodreads, I see something that makes me want to put my thumbs on that phone screen and just LAY. IT. DOWN. Some person with more time than brains makes a comment that makes steam come out my ears, and I want to enlighten them. And believe me, I could. I work really hard to not get snarky.

But people will not always listen.

No, much of the time, when someone makes a stupid comment or posts something offensive, it's time to back off and just let them live with it. Someone else can engage for you. If I'm on Facebook, what I'll do in that sort of a situation is leave an angry face emoji on their comment and move on. Ain't nobody got time to engage with every single offensive comment out there.

However, there are times when you MUST engage. If you've decided that this particular comment is worth it, go for it.

I'm going to share an example of a time when I started to engage and then backed off. On Goodreads a little while back, a friend of mine posted a review of a book featuring a controversial opinion stated very bluntly. The first few comments on this were civil and thanked her for putting her words out there.

Then the world blew up.

I think by the time that thread finally got shut down, there were 290 comments on this one review on Goodreads. Now, guys, Goodreads is not the place to do debates on social issues. It's a site for sharing books. You want a debate, you go to Twitter. But for a couple of days, that was literally the only thing I saw on my Goodreads feed. More people cussing, screaming, and beating each other up. On both sides of the argument.

That is painful to watch.

I only commented a total of three or four times. Once was to answer a particularly rude question asked of one my friends, and another was to ask people to stop cussing each other out because I was sick of it. Otherwise, while I read through all the comments and thought about what I might say, I stayed out of it. In most situations, that's the wisest thing to do.

However! Sometimes you will want to or even need to comment. Here are some tips for what to do when that happens. 



Ask questions--don't try to defend your own position.

When I did comment on that super-controversial review, I did my best to keep from taking sides. Here is the text of my comment asking people to stop cussing each other out:

Help me out here, guys. I’m genuinely confused. You’re all calling [name removed] a hateful bigot for posting this review. While I don’t agree with all her wording on it, I will ask you this: have you thought about the fact that you might gain more of a hearing if you stopped calling those of us who disagree with you names, and instead turned around and showed love to those who disagree with you? Talking to both sides here: I simply don’t understand how cussing each other out and yelling at each other is going to gain any ground on either side. :)
I'm sure there's some better way I could have worded this, or some way I could improve it, but this is an example of what TO DO. I got some lashback for this comment, but it was nowhere near as bad as I'd expected. This is the way you want to talk.

In general, you want to ask the other person questions that force them to explain what they think and that draw them out from behind their defensive rock.

The Colombo questions are a huge help for this situation:

What do you mean by that?
Have you thought about...[drop a bombshell here that forces them to concede their argument is flawed, or forces you to agree that they have a point]
How did you come to that conclusion?

As Bill Jack of Answers in Genesis says: "Use these questions as a crowbar, not a jackhammer. You want to make them think. You don't want to bash them over the head." (Paraphrased)
(Aka Me giving you these questions.)


DO NOT attack the other person personally.  Remember that they're a human being too.

I saw a thread a few days ago on a pro-life article on Facebook where a woman was being snarky about an unrelated issue, and a bunch of people jumped on her to tell her exactly why she was wrong. She snarked right back at them, until the moment that all of them seemed to miss, the moment when she mentioned that she was raped by her abusive boyfriend and got an abortion as a result.

No one talking to her even mentioned this. They didn't stop to show sympathy. They kept right on telling her exactly why she was wrong.

If somebody shares something personal with you (even if it's on Facebook, shared by a stranger,) they are being vulnerable and setting themselves up for pain. This is the part where you show sympathy (not pity; there's a difference there.) You say "I'm so sorry." You ask them if they're doing okay. You show them that YOU CARE. 

And you don't say that they only think that because they're an idiot. You don't talk down to them. If you're speaking to a friend, it's okay to use terms of endearment, but when you're debating with a stranger who could go hostile, don't use words like "sweetie" or "hon" or anything like that. It is so condescending, and it always, always hurts far more than it helps.

You may forget that you're talking to a person. It looks like you're talking to an avatar with a picture of a dog, or just watching words scrolling past as you fire back responses. But on the other side of the screen is a real, physical, HUMAN person with a heart and feelings that are just as easily damaged as you. 

Being "offended" is overused these days. Everything is "offensive" in some way. But this doesn't necessarily have to mean that your fragile ego has been damaged or you're "triggered." No, what it means is that it's time to back off. Remember you're talking to a human.


Always read through what you've written before you post it.

Sometimes, when I'm really fired up by something I've seen on soc. med., I'll pull up the comment form and write out a whole scathing, sassy rant about how I feel. I'll read back over it, come to the conclusion that I cannot in good conscience put this up without a lot of people jumping on me, and then delete the whole thing and move on WITHOUT HITTING SEND. 

This is a good method for things that you don't really want to engage on. However, it works on things you're actually sending, too.

When you've written a response to something and you're preparing to send it, read it over and ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I prepared to respond with love to any lashback I get from this statement?
  • Would I be pleased to have my parents/significant other/spouse/best friend (or any person who you know agrees with your position) read this comment? 
  • Would I be pleased to have a friend of mine who DOESN'T agree with me on this issue read this comment and see that this is how I feel about it?
  • If people get mad at me for what I say here, am I justified?
  • Will publishing this response make things better, or is it just to make myself feel better?
Your words paint a picture of you online, one that you can't erase. Whether you're coming along simply to break up a fight or trying to explain something to someone, the people you interact with (depending on how wide your sphere is) will remember you. If you've tried talking to them before, they will remember the way they were treated and attack you. Making online enemies is NOT worth it.


If you can't stand the heat, get away from the fire. 

Eventually, a point will come when you need to stop talking. You've got a class to get to. You're sick of this person cussing you out. You're ready to just back down, please.

It's human nature to want to get in the last word. However, in an internet debate, you can't just drop the mic and then walk away before the other person can say something. They ALWAYS have another chance to say something else. If you're trying to get in the last word, they'll shoot something back and then you'll have an unending fight. This is the LAST thing you want. DO NOT get pulled into trying to get the last word in. It doesn't work.

When you're ready to be done, just stop. Don't make any apologies. Don't call the other person a troll (that is pretty much the worst thing you can do in this situation, because they will NEVER leave you alone.) Simply type up one last thing for them to think about (if you want to; you don't have to do this) and set down the phone or close the window. You do not owe it to them to keep arguing. If you're done, you're done. This is different from a face-to-face discussion. In that case, you want to let the other person decide when they're done. But on the internet, if you're done, go ahead and be done.

When I was brand-new to Facebook (in June or maybe July of 2017) I stumbled across an article that lots of people were mad about. Basically, a woman at a public workplace had offered to pray for a non-Christian co-worker. If I'm remembering all the details correctly, he refused, and she was threatened with a lawsuit for bringing her "toxic religion" into the public workplace. The question posed by the article is "Should this woman have had the right to offer to pray for him?"

There was one person in that thread trolling all the evangelicals who responded, getting into long, meaningless arguments with him. Here's my response to that article, and his response to my comment.

This comment didn't seem to really have anything to do with my response, and I didn't have the time or interest in getting in a fight with this guy. There were plenty of others willing to do that. I was uninterested. So what did I do?

I simply walked away. 

I gave no response. I didn't let this person jump on me. It's not hard to do; it gets easier with practice. If you can't stand the heat, get away from the fire.



One last tip that is HUGE:


DO NOT surrender.

If you are talking to someone who does the opposite of what I'm telling you here--cusses you out, attacks you personally, treats you like you're not human, keeps trying to fight with you--do NOT just back down to make them leave you alone. 

If their arguments are genuinely compelling and you say, "Huh, I see your side better now," it's okay to concede that point. If someone actually changes your mind through the intelligence of their arguments and you actually believe differently thanks to someone's discussion with you, that's different. You can tell them that. You can change your thinking.

BUT. If someone is simply trying to intimidate you into backing down, DON'T FALL FOR IT. 

That is what they want. That is what they are trying to do to you. They want you to throw up your hands and say, "Okay! Okay! You're right after all! I'm sorry!" They want to hear that they can keep going in this fashion, attacking people and using bad tactics. 

If this person is the one talking to you, don't give them that victory. If YOU are that person, it's time to stop and rethink your tactics. It's time to work to change the way you speak. You wouldn't want to be a bully in the real world; don't be a cyberbully.



A few more miscellaneous tips: 

  • Don't just regurgitate other people's arguments without actually doing the research yourself and formulating your own opinion.
  • Don't curse. It makes you look less intelligent and makes people less willing to talk to you.
  • Don't stalk pages of people you disagree with just so you can troll their posts. It's mean and rude and only makes people hate you.
  • Do be kind. Try to assume the best of people and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Be aware of the lack of body language and go out of your way to be friendly.
  • Choose a friendly-looking profile picture! 
  • Be intentional and kind, and if you're somewhere like Facebook, "like" all the comments of the person you're talking to, even if you disagree.
  • Don't use technical language! 
  • Move your conversations to some form of Private Message (Facebook Messenger, Goodreads mail, Google hangouts, etc.) as soon as possible. 

I hope this post has been helpful for you! What's your favorite tip for posting on social media? Have you ever seen great results from a conversation online? Do you usually engage, or do you usually avoid the fire? Talk to me in the comments! 





Comments

  1. Yep! I wish that I could send this post to everyone I know who thinks that they can actually change the people on the internet by engaging with the trolls. XD

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    1. Haha, I definitely feel ya...xD Glad you liked it!

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  2. You make a lot of great points. It's sad to think just how mean people are and how social media has changed our society to be more numb to things such as feelings, except our own. I think you word things in a gentle way. I have a hard time doing this because I want to make my point known and I don't necessarily want people to agree with me, but to understand that we can respect each other. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find respectful people who want to respect your side of things.

    Amazing post.

    ~Ivie|Ivie Writes

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    1. I know, it really is sad. That's part of what makes real relationships so hard for a lot of people in today's world.

      Yeah, that's definitely a worthy goal--the approach does have to be executed carefully, though, and I think it's easier to convince people to agree with you if you're a little less blunt. Believe me, it's taken A LOOOOOOOOOOOONG time for me to get to where I am now.

      Thanks :)

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  3. Thank you! I really appreciated this, Faith! I have written out a huge comment, looked at it, and deleted it. It was for the better, too. It wasn't worth wasting time, and stressing over it.

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    1. You are so welcome! :D I do that ALL. THE. TIME. It's honestly very helpful.

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  4. Beautiful post, Faith. I've had quite a few fights on social media - particularly about religion and pro-life stuff. I've had to learn a lot of these things that you've mentioned the hard way. I've gotten a lot better since my hot-headed teen years, but I still need a reminder every now and then. Thank you for this!

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

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    1. Yeah, those are NOT fun. XD I avoid them as much as possible. You are so welcome! <3333

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  5. I try to avoid confrontation. Unless someone attacks my beliefs or a cause I feel strongly about.
    I feel like it's usually not worth it to argue on the internet.

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    1. That is definitely a valid approach! And I agree--most of the time, it isn't worth it. :P

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  6. Yas thank you so much for posting this! This is like the 1# reason why i'm not on Facebook. These are amazing tips and thank you for your wisdom:D

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    1. You are so welcome! Yeah, I try to avoid confrontational Facebook stuff. :P Again, you're welcome!!!

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  7. Thanks for posting this, Faith! It was really good. I'm not allowed on social media; but I know what you're saying is true because I see this on YouTube a lot. Thank you again!

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    1. Yeah, YouTube is bad about discussions of any kind. Social media in general really isn't the right platform for debates. :P You're so welcome!

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  8. This is so helpful! Internet trolls are the worst. :/

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  9. Awesome post, Faith!! I agree with all your points. Usually I don't like to get involved, because I'm afraid that no matter how hard I work on that comment, I'm going to say something wrong. Now I know better how to approach getting involved at those times when I feel God's nudge to say something. <3

    Lila @ The Red-Hooded Writer

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad you feel more confident now--that was my goal in writing this. <3

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  10. This was awesome girl! Thank you for posting it. I've been trying to find a way to post this sort of thing but it's not exactly my audience, so this was cool!

    I'm a new subscriber. I saw your comment on Gray's blog and also I've been following you on goodreads for a while. I didn't know you had a blog. :D

    ~Libby,
    Geoturtle.com

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    1. Libby! Hi! Welcome to my blog :) so sorry I haven’t responded before now, life’s been INSANE.

      I’m glad this post was helpful for you! :D

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  11. Thanks for this awesome post!

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  12. I love this so much Faith! I feel like people really just forget that when they write that nasty comment, it's to ANOTHER LIVING BREATHING PERSON. So threatening them, putting them down, it's really, really hurtful. I wish more people would realize that. :(

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  13. This was very nice! I have to admit, I've been tempted to start raging at people on the internet on MANY occasions, even on some of your and other blogger's posts occasionally. I think the most important thing we can do as humans is accept that we will all have different opinions, and that as long as our opinions aren't extremely violent or hateful ones, that's just the way it's going to be. I think you've done a very good job of summing up what I've been trying to do, which is be kind, listen, and accept that sometimes you've got to walk away. Good job :)

    Maia
    https://idleteenagerebellion.blogspot.com/

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