I have been complimented more than once for my way of conducting controversies on the internet: courteously, constructively, with substance. It took me back a bit at first. I didn’t think I was doing anything special. Then I started paying attention to the norm. I think I fail often at speaking the truth in love, but apparently the bulk of the people on the internet are even worse. Here are some guidelines I try to follow. I do so rather inconsistently, but I hope I’m getting better.
- Think twice if the thread belongs to someone you barely know, or who is only a “Facebook Friend.” Jumping in to correct people on someone else’s thread, or, worse, actually hijacking it, makes you a “troll.” It’s rude. JUST SCROLL ON.
- Do you have an actual point to make, or are you just trading insults? The latter will convert nobody and only alienate not only your opponents but any neutral lurkers you want to keep them from influencing. If that’s all you’ve got, JUST SCROLL ON.
- Do you have an actual point to make, or are you just saying things that you think will make you look smart to the group among the onlookers you are vainly trying to impress, or at least smarter than your opponent? The latter will convert nobody and only alienate not only your opponents but any neutral lurkers you want to keep them from influencing. If that’s all you’ve got, JUST SCROLL ON.
- Can you make your point in one short paragraph, or a couple at most? Nobody is going to read the interminable essay you are about to post. Nobody is going to follow the link to the massive dissertation you read (or wrote on your blog) on the topic. They might not even bother to roll their eyes at you. (I read, and write, long articles and even books. There is a place for them. A Facebook thread isn’t it.) All together now: JUST SCROLL ON.
- OK, you’ve made, succinctly and courteously, an actually relevant point. Your opponent isn’t interested; he just wants to keep arguing, without even taking it into account. You’ve called him back to it once, but it did no good. The discussion has now degenerated into a contest about who gets the last word. Let him have it. The only alternative is to sink to his level. You can take some of the sting out of it by noting, “I think we’re just starting to repeat ourselves. I’ve made my point.” Then if he takes the last word, he’s the one who looks bad. Let him. JUST SCROLL ON.
I think you get the idea. There is definitely a place for internet debate. We don’t want to let nonsense and ignorance go unchallenged. But sadly, we often do more harm than good when we let ourselves get goaded into trading rants. When you feel that temptation, what should you do? All together now: JUST SCROLL ON.
Order Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/! Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012). Each is $15.00 + shipping.