@LARGE | Michael Andor Brodeur

How to argue on Facebook, or not

Like a shrunken “I’m With Stupid” T-shirt, the phrase “these are divisive times” seems barely able to cover things. 

“Divisive” sounds tidy, and “tidy” is not how I would describe the current state of  political discourse — online or in front of large cheap bronze racist loser statues of losers. (See what I mean?)  

  No one is immune, least of all me, who spends a few hours of each day helplessly flipping between the roles of virtual Jane Goodall and squealing Facebook chimp, despite knowing full well better. The times aren’t so much divisive as they are shattered, blown to bits, atomized — to the point they get into your system through your eyes and ears and make your heart race. Talk to your doctor about these times.


Social media serves as both the battlefield and the warm bed back home for each of us in these cruel, bickery times. And unlike a war that one actually fights, it can be hard to tell just how much damage you’ve sustained in a Facebook scratch-match, and how much is the work of your own petard.

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What follows is written primarily as a soon-to-be-wall-mounted reference for myself — a textbook Pisces prone to absorbing every scrap of emotional/political content around me and amplifying it back into the universe with an extreme gain boost (meaning I get into Facebook fights). But it’s also a guide to — I don’t want to call them techniques, because techniques are for winning, and we’ll get to that, but maybe tactics, because this is ultimately more about civil discourse surviving, and we’ll get to that, too.

No one comes out of a Facebook fight looking good — it’s what makes them so watchable! — but with some simple ground rules, you can at least make it out with your pants up. Good luck out there!

AVOID MULTI-TSKING: Facebook fights are broadly understood by users and abstainers alike as the signature way to entirely waste one’s time in the twenty-teens. So it does a Facebook arguer no favors to be revealed or exposed as trying too hard — engaging in multiple instances of the same argument across several unrelated threads, sometimes even transplanting responses from one conversation into the body of another. That’s a lot of work! Once people observe a multi-tsker working this fervently at Facebook opinion coverage, our natural human perceptive abilities adjust and accommodate for these new proportions and, regardless of the validity or plain righteousness of the argument, it suddenly seems as though the tsker should be busy doing something, anything, else. Rule of thumb: Make like you’re back on crew, chap: One row at a time.

NO POINTS FOR YOU: Do not — and I am swinging my head right now in a very broad lateral arc from one side all the way over to the other — post talking points that you’ve collected and shuttled back from your favorite talking point shrub like some boring drone. Everyone has already heard and refuted the talking point you are about to post, and unlike, say, magnetic poetry, it really does not matter in what fresh order you arrange them. These points are made for talking, not getting anywhere. Cut copypasta from your discourse diet entirely. Think about what you’re arguing about and find some other entrance that only you know (because surely you have one). There’s no glory in CTRL+Ving your way to victory. 


HOST OF PROBLEMS: More often than not, the Facebook fight you’re in takes place in someone else’s home — i.e. the comments of their post. Unfortunate, that. And while a gracious Facebook host will allow a kerfuffle in the comments to play out naturally to a reasonable extent, maybe even posting a popcorn-eating GIF or a nail-care emoji the way a young king might giggle and clap at a trial by combat, the fighters themselves also bear an obligation beyond shared destruction. There is no worse look in a Facebook fight than starting some business with a stranger from the other end of a friendzone and then trying to drag the mutual friend (the threadkeeper) into the muck. If you need more than two clicks to unfold your whole argument on another person’s thread, you are in violation and must continue your fight via private message. (And as penance, you can post screenshots of the best parts of your chat for consumption later.)

GANG GROAN: Do not engage in Facemobs. Once in a while, a visitor will wander into your ideological bubble via someone’s lax privacy settings or the colorful chance determinations of one’s own bloodline. When this happens, it is common for a resistance to quickly form around the intruder once its presence has been registered (e.g. “But don’t all lives matter?” “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” “Hey, I like Iggy Azalea.”) It’s a natural response, yes. But as a strong, independent antibody in the social-media biome, you can determine whether the infraction needs your help. Going against an opponent with a simpatico commenter in classic tag-team fashion can be fine — even beautiful, at times — but a torch is a torch is a (tiki) torch. Chill out. We get it. Jane’s aunt needs to wake up.

GYST: Put simply, Get Your uh um let’s go with Situation Together. See something you don’t like on Facebook? Take a lap around the office. Brew some green tea. Visit your place. Take a few to think about it; invest in your response. Go in prepared, have a story, be funny, keep it to one appearance — pretend you’re like at The Moth or something. It’s not about going out on a high note, it’s much more simple than that. It’s just about going out — not spending all afternoon on Facebook when it’s already starting to get dark early. It’s also about making sure that civil discourse, in one form or another, survives. And to that end: 

STOP WINNING: Winning feels amazing, but only when you’re actually doing it. Recent studies have shown that absolutely nobody has ever changed his or her mind based on that awesome comment you posted. And besides: Facebook isn’t a debate club. Debates are tidy, divisive, winnable. Facebook is far more diffuse and insidious, finer than any filter — you may not even know you’re suffering from it. Each big blow just pushes the anger around into new mounds; each big victory tastes like a mouthful of dust. 

Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.