149. Avoid Flame Wars

Use these ABCs to avoid Flame Wars on Facebook and other social media.

Facebook and other social media are great, but not being face-to-face does present problems. You can’t see the emotional cues that tell you whether someone is joking, angry, or possibly addled by something else.

And, if we’re talking about something like politics or religion, it is especially likely that some of those involved in the discussion have extremely strong convictions about their beliefs. So someone makes a statement, and someone else responds. The first person perceived it as a personal attack, so responds in kind. Soon the thread consists of two or a few more people shouting at each other, as the rest of the thread participants slowly lose interest and stop posting.

It is axiomatic that a flame war almost never convinces anyone to change their mind. It is also possible that the flame war was started by someone who was intentionally trying to sabotage the group. These people are often called trolls. It should be noted, however, that calling someone a troll will usually only start or intensify a flame war.

Here is a model you may find helpful to avoid flame wars. The image with this article uses the A B and C codes for fire extinguishers as cues.

Avoid Ad-hominem (personal) Attacks

Ad hominem is short for the Latin argumentum ad hominem, which means responding to an argument by attacking a person rather than addressing the position the person is advocating.

Compare the effect of “I don’t see it that way,” rather than “You’re crazy if you believe that crap.”

Be kind, considerate, reluctant to Blame

Always remember that the other person may be having a very bad day. Maybe they just got finished arguing with a very abusive person, and you happen to get the left-over part of that argument. Maybe you misunderstood what they meant. Often someone is being sarcastic and someone else thinks they are being serious. It is possible that the person doesn’t speak English very well, or has some kind of a mental disorder. Even if the person is a troll, it is almost impossible to “win” against such a person.

Careful — group members are not a Court to decide which of you is Correct

What is the point of arguing with someone in a flame war? You are *not* going to convince them you are right. The people who may be undecided will be among the first to bail out of a flame war, as they realize the extremes being tossed back and forth are not rational arguments, or don’t appear to be. And we have never seen a group, at the end of a flame war, take a vote to determine who won the argument. Mostly both, or all the participants, lose.

If you genuine believe that one or more participants are trolls, or being destructive toward the group, it is much better to bring it to the attention of the group’s Admin (or someone responsible for the group). Often there are group policies against this sort of thing and they can warn or ban those who are clearly breaking those policies.

Finally, if someone really gets under your skin, Facebook and some other social media have a way to block that person so they no longer bother you. This is better for the group. Warning: for Facebook, if you block someone who happens to be a group Admin, they may ban you from the group. But if a group Admin is doing the flaming, you are probably better off finding another group anyway.

Try to step back and look at the overall effect of these flame wars, and try to remember the basic principle, “First, do no harm.”

— By Jan Wilson. Changed 21 Jan 2018


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