There’s a conflict on social media: should I get involved?

 In Conflict management training

We’ve all witnessed and participated in social media conflicts, and probably even bullying. Online conflicts are a hostile place and often where de-escalation skills go to die (in my humble opinion). What makes it such a reactionary place? The detachment of being behind a screen; the overstimulation of constant information; access to endless opinions, are just a few of the reasons I can think of! Conflicts happen online every minute of every day. The big question today is, do you need to get involved?

I  find that unless you have some sort of relationship with the person (even peripherally), trying to have dialogues over heated subjects online is futile. I find it more productive messaging someone privately or saving my energy for discussions with people who I have investment in, and who I trust and/or care about. Adding your opinion to every discussion isn’t always necessary or even helpful. But on the other hand sometimes it is important to say something! So how can you determine whether it’s appropriate or useful to chime in?

Will you be adding anything useful or productive to the conversation? 

Are you just saying the exact same thing multiple other people have already said? Are you commenting just to mock or make fun of someone (when probably many other people have already done the same)? If so, you are just dog piling, which is when “multiple people join in directing critical or abusive comments at another person or group”.  Sometimes we need strength in numbers, but because on social media people tend to be needlessly cruel, it’s often overkill and just really mean and unnecessary.

Is your comment (opinion) required?

Do you actually have anything to add that is constructive? Do you know something about this topic that others don’t? Does it help clarify something? Will it help de-escalate or minimize harm? If not, you might just want to consider not commenting. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people comment with just factually incorrect information that is based solely on their reactive feelings and not from a reliable source (for example, people aggressively pushing legal advice that isn’t true/real). This is not helpful and actually potentially harmful!!

Are you just being performative? 

Social media personalities are a performance. The way we behave in person and on social media is often not congruent. It is common for people to involve themselves in online conflicts merely to be seen on the ‘right side’. This is performative and has everything to do with you and how you want to be perceived, and nothing to do with showing solidarity, helping resolve or de-escalate the conflict. If your comment can’t stand up to the two previous questions, it will likely just encourage more dogpiling and in some cases, bullying. 

Are you actually trying to help? 

How much do you actually care about the situation? How invested are you, really? Would you follow through with a more in depth dialogue if it were proposed or offered? Would you actually be willing to put the work in to help de-escalate or resolve the situation if someone came forward wanting to repair the harm they caused? If not, and you cannot actually offer any constructive information/insight, keep on scrolling and save your energy. 

Do you have enough information?

Often on the internet, all we know is what we’ve read from a post or from the comment’s section. A lot of people’s responses are based on other people’s positions or their own personal experiences. Speaking from your own experience is great! But if you are not directly involved and do not actually know details, history, or the people involved, then you may need to do some research before jumping in (OR just mind your own business and move on). 

So there you have it.

I’m often not sure why people feel such a strong urge to get involved and add their opinions to every single online dispute, but I’d say over half the time it does more harm than good. Before jumping in, please consider your role, the information you do or do not have, your intentions and your commitment to helping de-escalate or repair. If you notice you’re mostly doing it for the rush, the attention or the posturing, my suggestion is to not involve yourself OR challenge yourself to get involved in a way that is productive and in line with whatever values you hold. 

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