How not to Be a Jerk on Facebook, and Still Express Yourself

At the time of writing this article near the end of 2016, Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly users. That’s a lot of potential friends! But unfortunately, not all interaction on Facebook is friendly, especially in this election cycle in the U.S. In fact, many people have pulled themselves back from using Facebook, because of all of the angry exchanges that seem to permeate their newsfeeds. Reading all the angry comments can really wear out the softer-hearted people (and I think most of us, at the core, have soft hearts).

Truth is, there are a lot of jerks on Facebook! Yet these Facebook jerks generally seem to be nice enough people if you meet them off the internet. I have to say that it would be fair to say that I have been a Facebook jerk, and so I’m not coming from the perspective of being an angel telling transgressors how to repent, but from the perspective of someone who has not behaved well, but is learning all the time how do better.

I never set out to be a jerk, it just happened. I think the main problem for me is that I was new to expressing ideas in what is essentially a public venue in which multiple people can jump in, and so I didn’t have a clear idea how to have boundaries and rules that kept me safe from saying things in ways that were not wise, resulting in angry exchanges, not just by me but by teams of people going back and forth yelling at each other in writing.

What I realized, however, is that when someone posts something, it is often saying to the world something along the lines of “This is who I am” or “This is what I think or feel”. Now, if a person in real-life (as opposed to in virtual life on the web) would say something to me, I would be respectful of what they are saying and try to understand why they feel or think the way I do. Perhaps I would offer alternative viewpoints, but I would do this gently. And I would rarely if ever do this in front of other people. I would want the conversation to be personal and private.

Back when I was a jerk (as I would have appeared to other people, not because I was trying to be a jerk), I would jump on their timeline (or their “wall”, as it used to be called), and I would make a comment on their post, that disagreed with their position. You can see that if a person is making a statement about who they are in their posting, a negative comment comes across as saying that they are bad, defective, not acceptable, etc. So generally, unless someone explicitly invites comments or discussion, I will no longer put a disagreeing comment in reply to their post.

I’m not saying that we need to be politically correct and never express ourselves on Facebook. But there are alternative ways to disagree with someone. First of all, if I felt like I really wanted to exchange ideas with that person, I could seek to carry on a conversation in private messaging. This would at least avoid any kind of public loss of face or embarrassment. But more generally, I will let them be who they are, and I will be who I am. You do you.

Yet sometimes a posting really fires me up, and I want to say something on the subject, perhaps simply to define who I am to other. So I will post on my timeline, and I will begin by saying something like, “I have been seeing others post their support of or belief in” whatever. Then I will write, “But here is my perspective or believe on the subject.” That way, I don’t directly confront the person – and honestly I don’t care if they read my perspective — so I don’t tag them or first share their post or do anything else to get their attention. It is just to put out there what I believe.

Very few people are looking for arguments or information when they state a point of view. So it a waste of emotional energy to try to convert those hostile to conversion. It is better to fish for those who are interested in a different perspective than their own or are looking for additional facts to help from an opinion.

There are other rules to live by to keep from being a jerk if for some reason you end up engaging someone in a written Facebook discussion.
1. Don’t call other people names (this should be obvious, but you would be surprised – or maybe not).
2. Don’t try to put someone in a box and assume that you know all of the nuances of their beliefs just because they expressed an opinion in one small subject area.
3. Don’t assume someone’s heart is evil just because you think their idea or belief is evil.
4. Don’t assume the worst about someone else that you disagree with.
5. Don’t use foul language.

You should use these guidelines, as well, when posting on your own timeline. If you disparage a certain group, chances that one or more of your friends will identify with that group, and will feel like you were disparaging them. I’m not talking about disagreeing with a position or idea, but if you demean the hearts of people who hold that idea, you demean your friends

There are also some rules to live by to help you dialog with someone.
1. Seek first to understand their point.
2. Seek next to understand what led to their embracing that perspective.
3. When presenting things that contradict their position, ask questions. You might ask whether they had considered whatever alternative is that you are presenting, and if so, what they didn’t like or believe about it.

When sharing articles or clips on your timeline, try to find ones that are not inflammatory. In other words, if instead of an article or a clip you were to say those things, would they be in violation of any of the above guidelines?

What I have proposed is that each of us embrace a Facebook etiquette of stating opinions on one’s own timeline rather than arguing on someone else’s. And then in stating an opinion, or in replying to someone who doesn’t hold the same etiquette and has commented on your timeline, make sure your words (or the articles you share) are clean and you haven’t judged the heart motivation of another.

I’m a recovering jerk, and I’m hoping that many reading this will join me!

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