My facebook feed is a host to good friends and often, a good debate.  In all transperancy, there is nothing I love more than asking a question on my wall and having responses with intelligence. My heaven very well may be a podium with an unlimited amount of questions and answers, I’m a nut. I’m one of those facebook posters that link to controversial articles, (because I just host my feed to friends and family I trust and care about.) But more than not, while I simply post something to share (and secretly want to learn more about,) passionate discussion ensues. That was, until tonight.

Just a few moments ago, a couple friends decided to throw away basic manners and dig deep to try and get the “other side” to listen to their stance. True with every form of forceful communication ever given, instead of changing the other side, the outspoken debate turned into a blood-drawn attack, until I had to jump in and say, “Enough.”

While one side all but declared victory, I sat stunned as I messaged a friend back and forth and heard the pain through the words in her messages. I had started something that caused her to suffer. What had I done?

Stop Hi-jacking My Wall

While it’s happened many times before, I realized we had all experienced what I refer to as, “Facebook Wall hi-jacking.” You’ve seen it too. Someone posts an article, opinion or photo that causes someone else to weigh in or agree or disagree. Then, another individual comes along and offers their opinion. Soon, the discussion isn’t truly about what you posted in the first place, but rather a rapidly heating debate over a very emotional topic. Then, it gets ugly. Soon, you start pressing the delete key, tears are rolling down your face and you wonder how a status about your beautiful family or cancer started World War 3.

Would you ever walk into your friend’s home and exclaim how ugly their decorating is, or how terrible their children are? (Let’s hope not. Un-solicited criticism hardly is received the way the bearer intends.) Would you ever grab a megaphone and start criticizing your friend’s outfit in the middle of a busy mall? I save that kind of harshness for, “What Not To Wear,” and to be honest, I still wince whenever they call someone out. You wouldn’t socially embarass or hi-jack someone, so why do it online?

The Golden Rule

Facebook walls, are PUBLIC and PRIVATE at the same time. The lines have been blurred to a point that each individual can make their profile and interactions whatever they’d like them to be. However, it doesn’t mean that everyone won’t appreciate common decency and respect. In fact, the debates where my friends calmly stated their opinion and asked questions instead of made blanket statements were the ones I learned most from and really enjoyed. I learn from intelligent and respectful discussions and the moment I digest a new fact, I instantaneously want to learn more. The moment I see friends or family attack each other online, is where I immediately start to stress. And have you seen what stress does to our brains? According to Healthland Time,

“Everyday stress can lead to changes in the brain that make us more vulnerable to mental as well as social disorders ranging from depression to addiction and behavioral conditions. Even among healthy individuals, adverse life events that cause stress can lead to shrinkage in parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and metabolism.” 

Yup. Watching my friends argue just made made my brain shrink. The worst part is, it also made everyone else’s brain shrink at the same time, like a party where the favor handed out was pure stupidity. In my case, on top of everything else, some major un-friending happened. (Luckily, it all worked out,) but without my crisis plan in place, it could have been truly an event to forget.

 

One ultimate truth

Before you engage in any online activity you need to know the golden rule: No one wins in an internet debate. In fact, if your intention is to WIN instead of learn, you’re already setting yourself up to fail. When we debate peacefully, we open a door to our mind to listen to the other side, taking information in, processing and letting it flow out. When we begin to let our emotion or ego take over, suddenly we slam the door to our mind and instead of actively listening, we immediately begin to form our defense. Being reactive is hardly a trait of a great leader and it can lead to a host of stress and ridiculous attempts to end sentences with, “…so there.” The more reactive we are, the more we stunt our own intellect. The less reactive we are, the more we can learn and grow. So, how can we help our online friends understand this as well? Follow these three steps to keeping the peace on Facebook and online.

Solid Advice

One:   With posting great status updates, comes great responsibility. Remember, although these people like you enough to… “like” you, they will not always agree with you. (Wouldn’t that be boring if they did?) Protect your friends’ by reaching out if someone seems especially hurt or offended by a status message or argument. Proactive communication can mean the difference between solidifying a relationship or obliterating a connection. Additionally, don’t be afraid to step into a debate that seems to be spiraling out of control and remind people that slurs, disrespect and otherwise idiocy are on your “no-fly” list. Those watching will appreciate.

Two:   The more controversial the post, the greater the possibility of debate. Humans are emotional, passionate, beings. While the average cat photo may not inspire your best friend to start ranting about Syria or the stock market, it certainly could. Many will tell you to not post anything controversial on your Facebook, but let’s face it… almost EVERY news article has some controversy, or you wouldn’t be interested. It’s your wall, treat it exactly how you’d like to, but remember that a single article can alienate a good friend. Always be open to criticism. Instead of saying, “You’re wrong,” simply answer with, “That’s interesting, can you tell me more?” When we invite conversation and squash the potential of negativity, we gain trust and respect.

Three:   Let It Go. Never before have you been so reachable, so open and so utterly transparent that people wonder how you have time to post another message at 12am. You’re bound to make a few people angry. The most important advice you can remember is that real friendships will test even the worst status message debate. Reach out to people after a heated discussion and thank them for their opinion, (even if it differs from yours!) I one reached out to someone who insisted on arguing passionately against something I truly believed in. I couldn’t understand their position, but I enjoyed hearing their point of view. After I sent a facebook message of, “thanks for chatting with me about this,” I received a reply of, “Shut up, Kate.” I pressed on saying, “I really mean it.” Now? They’re one of my favorite people on Facebook and off. (And, they can tell me to “shut-up” anytime.) Sometimes, I probably need it.

Remember:   Answer your online debate with more questions, be open to feedback and most importantly, take the most heated conversations off-line. You’ll like the results.