Who doesn’t love a good 30-comment Facebook argument or an entertaining Twitter thread between two different political viewpoints? These days, you don’t have to search very far to find a juicy debate about gun control, abortion or gold vs. blue dresses.
However, in a world where internet trolls have microphones and the belief in a flat Earth is considered a “valid opinion,” meaningful discussions are hard to come by. Just take a look at the comments section of any political post expressing any kind of opinion whatsoever; You will find someone who fundamentally, at their very core, disagrees with the post, the poster themselves, the poster’s religion and the poster’s dog.
In these comments, you’ll also see people choosing to engage in an almost violent exchange of ideas that typically devolves into name-calling and the inevitable: making fun of profile pictures.
As someone who has participated in these online battles both as a troll and as someone who was genuinely trying to be heard, I’ve found that there are certain things that must be done in order to make the conversation a quality one.
DON’ T GO INTO IT TRYING TO “WIN.”
This is one of the major reasons our nation is so polarized when it comes to politics. We are constantly trying to “beat” the other side while simultaneously not “losing.” This in turn takes away from the conversation at hand and gets us nowhere as we are simply trying to respond without actually listening.
DO YOUR RESEARCH.
If you’re going to try and debate someone, please be prepared. I’m not saying you need to put all the articles you use in MLA format with 12-point Times New Roman font, but at least use reliable sources reporting quality information. If you quote an outdated patriarchal ideology on a debate about women’s rights, I’m writing you off because you’re not bringing anything new to the table.
DON’T MAKE IT PERSONAL.
The best way to know a good discussion is no longer a discussion is when shit starts to get personal. At that point, the conversation becomes insulting someone’s intelligence, physical appearance or their mom. It’s no longer about the topic and sharing different viewpoints, and it ceases to be a productive use of one’s time. In the wise words of Leslie Knope, “Stay on message.”
KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY.
We are all committed to our beliefs, and changing those is near impossible. We need to take that expectation away from those we are challenging. They believe what they do for reasons only they will truly understand. If you arrive at a standstill where they’re not budging and neither are you, cut your losses and walk away. You were probably never going to convince them, anyway.
If nothing else, send the screenshots to your friends and laugh your ass off.
At the end of the day, social media is (supposed to be) fun. If you just finished an argument that felt like two hours talking to a wall, at least you can lean on your friends who agree that random person was (probably) an idiot and said some really dumb stuff.
I share these tips with you in hopes that you go forth into the realm of social media and use them as a means to have good dialogues about the state of our country, the Earth’s flatness or whether that darn dress is actually blue or gold.
If that’s not your goal, then I wish you well in your trolling.