15 things I’ve learned as a young woman who sometimes fights with strangers on Facebook

It’s rough out there, but we can’t be silent. Here’s some hard-won advice for others who wade into dangerous social-media waters.

  1. Check your privacy settings and adjust them BEFORE you comment on Facebook articles.
  2. Check your grammar. People will attack this first and most often. Neutralize it by re-reading your comments before you post.
  3. Make your point in two or three sentences. Any longer and you start to look crazy, which will only help your opponent. This is extremely difficult to accept in the heat of the commenting moment. Concision. Is. Key. (Yes, I know that’s three sentences and three fragments. #irony)
  4. No one on Facebook ever says to a stranger, “That’s a great point. Thank you for adding it to the discussion. Even though I disagree with you, I appreciate your voice, and you have inspired me to think more deeply about this perspective.” If you express dissent on Facebook, expect pushback and brace for it.
  5. When you receive pushback, you have a choice: walk away or engage. If you walk away, you miss half the fun, but the thread is less likely to devolve. If you engage, wrap up your followup points in one additional comment, two at most. A disagreement that lasts beyond a relatively short back-and-forth is highly likely to devolve into an attack on you.
  6. Though an attack can come from anyone, you are most likely to be attacked by a middle-aged person who is somewhere around the age of 50. We can speculate about why this is the case, but middle-aged folks who are inclined to argue on Facebook have zero hangups about going after young women. We’re easy targets.
  7. You are equally likely to be attacked by a man or a woman, though the tone of the attack will vary by gender. Men are more likely to directly mock, threaten, or intimidate you in order to “win” the argument. Women are more likely to appeal to others — either by calling for backup from their own network or by appealing to others on the thread — in order to build a consensus that “shames” you into agreement or capitulation. A man will look for no such agreement from you, and he is more likely to insist on getting the last word, often by going low.
  8. Assume that both men and women will click on your profile and scroll long enough to come up with personal jabs to intimidate or discredit you. If you plan to fight about politics on Facebook, do not use a swimsuit photo of yourself or a photo with your kid as your profile picture. Also consider removing your employer from your profile.
  9. You will hear more comments from people who disagree with you than you will hear from people who agree with you. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, and it doesn’t mean the world is against you. Keep on.
  10. Do not ever expect anyone to stick up for you if an argument devolves into an attack. I cannot stress this enough: attacks take on a momentum of their own, and you are on your own if a thread begins to pile on you. If you start to get emotionally shaken, walk away. If you continue to engage, it will only get worse. And yes, it can always get worse.
  11. A particularly vicious argument may stick with you long after you turn off the screen. But once a certain amount of time has lapsed, it truly is better to let the thread die — even if someone else got the last word.
  12. Delete any contentious threads from your personal profile. Right or wrong, it’s better for your professional and personal image long term, even if you were “victorious” in your arguments.
  13. This is not always easy, but keep in mind that there are actual people on the other end of your Facebook argument. Don’t instigate attacks on those people, and don’t pile on when an attack is evolving. The digital world doesn’t need more nastiness, and you’re better than that.
  14. Arguing on Facebook takes practice, and it takes a fairly strong stomach. You will get better at it over time. You have a right to share your opinion, just like anybody else. You can do this.
  15. But check those damn privacy settings.