Don't Argue on Facebook
I did something this week that I really try not to do.
I responded to someone on Facebook.
It was in a group focused on my local community. A man posted to “alert other parents” that the middle school had sent a form to students that included questions about preferred pronouns.
He was outraged, especially about the follow-up question: “Do your parents and guardians know that these are your preferred pronouns?”
This particular parent felt that this was encouraging students to lie to their parents. Which is an interesting point, I thought.
But his use of the Fox News buzzword “indoctrination” set off my bias detector. It was the pronoun preference issue that really triggered him.
And when some brave soul replied with an alternative point of view—“I don't think it’s a big deal; the parents are not the child”—the man’s tone heated up even more.
It was one of those moments when two of my guiding principles were in direct conflict with each other.
One: if you see something that is biased that could be causing harm, say something. Last week my colleague Dr. Kiera Penpeci wrote about the importance of practicing allyship by speaking up, even if it’s just to create a pause so people can reflect on new perspectives.
Then there’s another of my guiding principles: don’t argue with people on Facebook.
I was directly in the middle of the two.
This man’s comments—and the follow-up ranting from him and his supporters—could cause harm to young people by normalizing biases about gender identity.
Do I just let that sit?
At the same time, I know that it’s pointless to argue on social media. This man is clearly not looking for feedback.
Speaking up in meetings, like Kiera did, can work because the community shares an investment in the outcome. Changing the dynamic in a group like that can create a feedback loop that changes behavior over time.
I have never seen that play out online.
So I thought about it. The original poster wasn’t listening to alternative points of view, but other people might be. Maybe I could contribute something worthwhile that would reach people reading the thread, so they would see a different perspective amid all the screaming.
For me, interrupting bias isn’t about changing someone’s belief system. It’s about stopping, or redirecting, the flow of the conversations; interjecting a different perspective—making clear that what was said isn’t the only way of thinking.
So that’s what I ended up doing. I wrote a few thoughts about the importance of treating people with respect by addressing them in the way in which they want to be addressed (names and pronouns), and about how not all adolescents can safely talk about this at home. The original poster responded with a couple angry and flippant posts.
At that point, I stopped. There’s no winning on Facebook.
But I did see a few other people “liked” what I said. I guess that’s a victory.