Don’t Feed the Trolls: Some Thoughts on Social Media Arguments

(originally posted on on 9/25/14)


Yesterday morning I was greeted with a Facebook notification, alerting me that I had been tagged in a post. I sauntered over to said post, and read the article that my friend had shared. It was a highly incendiary article, written by a white male for the National Review, that calls into question the “war on women.” He posits that the battle ended long ago, and that the women won. He cited some statistics that backed up his claims that women are more educated than men, that there are more women in the workforce than men, and that single women out-earn single men. In a nutshell, he thinks women should stop bellyaching. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here.

I have this particular Facebook friend, and I suspect you all have at least one of them, that enjoys posting about highly controversial topics, presumably just to see what kind of shit storm ensues. I’ve gone back and forth about eliminating this friend from my list, but ultimately have chosen not to. While this friend’s views are often wildly different than my own, I find value in knowing how someone so different than me thinks about the world. Arguments are generally solid, and I find that sometimes it does give me pause to consider another point of view.
But yesterday I knew I was being baited.
I’m a feminist, and I do support several charities that work to end violence against women and girls throughout the world. For the past four years I’ve been involved with a charity production of “The Vagina Monologues” in downtown LA and during the show season post endlessly about it. Hell, I even make anatomically correct vagina cupcakes to sell as a fundraiser. I knew I was tagged in this particular post, in the hopes that I would willingly jump into the fray.
I opted not to participate.
While I have opinions about the article, I am of the firm belief that you cannot ever win an argument on social media. Nick Bilton wrote a great article for the New York Times where he ruminates on how engaging in discussions about highly controversial topics on Facebook or Twitter or other social media outlets is a fool’s errand. I tend to agree.
Here it is, about 24 hours after the argument began, and I see that the post has garnered over 250 comments. And while there are some cogent thoughts presented on both sides of the table, the discussion has devolved into name-calling, hate-speaking, and rape jokes most would consider to be in poor taste, especially if taken out of context.
In my opinion, arguments on social media cannot be won, and becoming involved in them is a waste of time and energy. There will always be trolls out there, ready to engage in a war of words. It’s just not a war that I think is worth fighting. While I think that information about controversial topics has a place on social media, I tend to let the information speak for itself. People can choose to read or not read the articles I share, and I do the same with articles that others share. I digest them and let them inform my worldview. But I don’t want to engage with the digital mob. At least I try very hard not to.
What are your thoughts about social media arguments? Do you think they have a place in our virtual world? Do you actively engage in them, or shy away from them as I do?