This article is from Issue 70: July/August 2014

Should I Join This Facebook Debate?

7 questions to ask before you throw down online

Twenty years ago, it was a lot harder to get into arguments with people.

For one thing, a face-to-face argument takes bravery. You have to care enough about your position to engage another person in the awkwardness that is arguing. You also probably didn’t know many people who liked to argue.

Sure, you had a few argumentative friends, but you didn’t see them every day. You didn’t have much interaction with them. You bumped into maybe 30 people in an average day and the opportunities to disagree with someone were few and far between.

Now though, you and I live in a virtual wonderland of disagreement. With the click of a button you can instantly run into more people than your parents did during the entire year of 1987. And—this is going to surprise you—but not all of those people share the exact same beliefs as you do. About anything.

The massive numbers of people, ease of use and ability to say bold things while hiding behind a computer has made Facebook more than just a social site. It’s a factory churning out invitations to arguments.

But which ones should you get into? That’s the challenge. We now have an endless buffet of discourse and debate, topics and tantrums. Where should you aim your plate? There are so many to choose from that it gets overwhelming. Until now.

Here are seven questions you should ask before joining a Facebook argument.

1. Do I Care About This Topic?

You would think this one would be intuitive, but you’d be surprised. Have you ever had an argument with a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend or friend and during the middle of the argument someone yells, “What are we even fighting about?”

We have the ability to fight about things that don’t really matter to us. It’s also easy for arguments to start in one place but quickly head somewhere different. As you look at a post on Facebook, honestly ask yourself, “Do I care about this topic?” If you have a hard time answering that, ask, “Would my friends say I care about this topic?”

Facebook is more than just a social site. It's a factory churning out invitations to arguments.

If the answer is “yes,” proceed with the rest of the questions. If the answer is “no,” move on. Arguing with people on Facebook just for the sport of it is dumb.

2. Do I Really Know Anything About This Topic?

There are large segments of the Internet populated by “instant experts.” These are the bold souls whose volume of arguing greatly outweighs the volume of knowledge they actually possess about the topic.