The lead up to the election was pretty brutal on the Internet.

Everything from climate change to Medicare privatisation to the right to be a Muslim was on the table. Micro parties with misleading agendas were dissected all over the place. Reasoned discussion was answered with crappy memes, facts met with excessive use of caps-lock, evidence stricken from the record when it didn’t match opinions.

It was like the Internet at all times, but more so. Internet intensified. And that’s just here in Australia. Checking out some Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, it looks like it’s been pretty intense in America for some time now, between the presidential election, racial tension and the never-ceasing discussion on gun laws.

Why Do People Engage in Debates on the Internet?

This really comes down to the individual. I’m no expert but I think lots of people just want to be heard. There’s something to be said for putting your views out there and finding people that share them, for better or worse. When you find someone that agrees with you, it can go a long way towards validating your position. Whether or not that is a good thing is up for debate, though. It’s probably a big part of why some people are so comfortable in expressing racist or xenophobic opinions; they are far from alone.

typing cat

What Happens When You Engage?

If you try to add a different view to any discussion, you’re probably not going to change the minds of those who are disagreeing with you. Not necessarily because you are wrong, either. You can share studies, official policies, facts and information from reputable sources, but if someone really doesn’t want to believe you, they won’t. And the mere challenge of their beliefs can be enough to draw their ire down on you. When you’re passionately defending a position that isn’t rooted in facts, you have nowhere to turn except for personal attacks. These seem to range from fairly benign judgments on your intellect to nonsensical insults and angry threats of physical harm.

troll

So, Why Bother?

If views like that remain unchallenged, we lend them a legitimacy that they don’t really deserve. Someone (possibly Edmund Burke?) once said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Does it seem a little melodramatic to apply that to debates on the internet? Maybe. But look at it this way. We are more engaged now than ever before. We discuss issues with people from all over the world online. We have more access to information (both good and bad) than ever before. We don’t hold our opinions in relative isolation anymore.  If we don’t ever challenge harmful views, we run the risk of them being accepted as truths.

Be under no illusions. If someone is coming at you online in a caps-locked rage about their favourite chocolate being halal certified, no explanation of what halal literally means will change their view. Talking about the export market won’t help them to see reason. Likewise, frustrated “YOU ARE A RACIST BIGOT” responses won’t change their minds, either.

CAPSLOCK

Putting information out there is not for the benefit of the person with the questionable opinions. It’s for the silent observers. The people reading along at home who might be still forming their own opinion. A few reasonable comments here, a link to good information there. Things like that offer balance to a discussion and just might help someone to decide how they feel or prompt them to look further into whatever the issue is. I should know; I’ve been that person many times!

When It Gets Too Much.

Battle fatigue was a military term for an acute reaction to the stress of combat. I’m by no means comparing the stress of the online debate to that experienced by people who fight in wars. However, continually butting heads online is bound to have an impact. There’s only so many times you can read hateful remarks directed at you or what you believe before it wears down on you.

FRUSTRATED

I’m calling it; Internet battle fatigue is a thing. I’m no expert, of course, but I did talk to a psychologist friend who agreed with me. The polite exchange of ideas, even when you disagree, is one thing. Weathering any form of attack, over and over, is exhausting and really upsetting. I found myself in a position not that long ago in a private Facebook group. Trying to explain yourself repeatedly to people who don’t want to listen is hard. Being criticised (deserved or not) can make us feel ashamed, angry or insecure. Add feelings of being misunderstood into the mix and you have one unhealthy cocktail. That day, the way I felt impacted my ability to sleep between my work shifts. I barely ate. I felt overly emotional and really drained. Talking to friends who’ve had similar experiences, they’d experienced similar responses.

What Should You Do?

As I said before, I’m no expert. I can only tell you what I do. And that is to take a break. Distance is a wonderful tool to gain perspective. In that instance, I decided to leave the group. In other instances, I’ve unsubscribed from the thread so that I didn’t get notifications. I’ve made a conscious choice to not look at the comments section again (or not to look at all!). Here on my blog, I filter and remove comments that are abusive. I also have no hesitation in blocking people here or on social media. I even sometimes adjust settings in advance so that certain people don’t see what I’m sharing to avoid the potential conflict.

head desk

I don’t enter into online debate anywhere near as much as I used to because it does take it’s toll on me. If you’re in the same boat and feeling like you’re constantly banging your head on your desk, give yourself permission to step back from it. You’re not obliged to right the wrongs of the world online. That is something I keep telling myself. There is value in standing up for what you believe in. There is value in sharing information and ideas. There is value in challenging harmful opinions and beliefs. But there is also a hell of a lot to be said for looking after yourself as well.

 

#FYBF @ With Some Grace.

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  • I actually hadn’t thought about entering the fray for the benefit of links for lurkers. That’s a really good point. I just don’t discuss some things online as I know I don’t have the energy or resilience to deal with the “read the headline only” crowd. I’m thankful I have a partner and friends I can talk about things with – we may disagree but unlink the internet simple disagreement isn’t responded to with verbal attacks or accusations of trolling.

    • Oh, the read the headline only crowd do my head in!

  • Mel Roworth

    I used to get really caught up on things like this. When you’re passionate about something it can become all consuming.
    Passion is not a bad thing and arguments and debates are invaluable when it comes to gaining new insight (although I’d prefer more people understood the value of a respectful debate). The name calling, the aggression, THE CAPS LOCK….. just drop your view and back away slowly.

  • That is exactly why I respond to topics that fire me up (sexism, vaccination and racism mainly). Because the other people reading might just think “oh, that makes sense”.

    In vaccination posts, for example, you often see a reply that isn’t frothing at the mouth and sounds vaguely reasonable at first glance but is anti vax all the way. New mums respond saying why didn’t my doctor tell me that? That’s when responding has a good chance of reaching someone and making a difference.

    Most of the time it does nothing other than frustrate me, but does connect me with groups of likeminded people.

    And then I take a break!

    • Yes. I engage in those things too, because it’s too important not to!

  • I don’t tend to engage too much, because I know once I start it’s hard for me to stop and I just get frustrated. However if it’s a topic that I feel really strongly about…game on!

  • This is certainly food for thought. I don’t really enter into too many debates online. But your Edmund Burke quote definitely has me thinking maybe I should!

    • Maybe back me up if you see me getting snowed under, I’ll be forever grateful 😉

  • Oh god yes… I’m always tempted to dive in. Or I simmer about it or imagine posting something myself. But it’s not healthy half of the time. If I somehow have information others don’t I feel like I need to dive in, but often there are others who are more informed etc..

    • It can be very consuming, to constantly refute, argue, debate and defend.

  • I saw what you have had to deal with this week, SHIT! I have to say the fatigue has been around for years on my behalf, as a fresh-faced journo back in 2001 I thought I could change the world, I’m sure I changed a few people’s point of views but these days I try to have my say to people who are actually going to listen or who ask.. I admire you though Amy, you’re a stronger soul than I!

  • I tend to steer clear and just lurk in the background – I can’t handle the personal attacks! The rubbish you copped this week was absolutely ridiculous. I always love your responses and I bet you’ve helped loads of people to become better informed on a huge range of issues!

  • I’ve learned to speak up on what I believe, but I steer clear from heavy debates because they drain your emotional energy and there is no point trying to win an argument with someone you don’t always know on the internet and who usually believes they are right anyway. In saying that, I think the battles on the internet have gotten worse. Loving all the gifs in this post.

    • People have less of a social filter behind a keyboard, for sure!

  • I must admit, I’m a silent lurker. I’m not good with conflict and I can’t believe some of the nastiness that occurs. But I do look for solid information and reasoned argument and I’m grateful for those that provide it.

    • Exactly! There are, I bet, many people like you who read along and glean info. That’s the only reason I engage at all these days.

  • Life is way too short to get involved in go nowhere debates with strangers on the Internet. Go have conversations face to face I say

  • Wise advice! And I love your point about commentary for the silent majority. x

  • I can’t be bothered with it all anymore. When i see people debating i immediately click away now. Absolsutely internet battle fatigue is a thing, so over it.
    I love your advice 😊

  • jess

    I struggle wth this. 99% of the time I don’t say anything, because I often feel that those type of people are not the ones whose opinions are going to change, and they actually get off on the conflict and drama. Although I like your point about the silent observers who may be reading, I’m just not sure thats enough for me to engage!

    • That’s totally okay, you are not obliged to engage. Others will, whether they should or not. It’s bloody stressful at times and no one needs more of that!

  • Sage advice. I’m not a fan of confrontation either in real life or online and I also think that what I say isn’t going to change someone else’s opinion. I’m one of those silent observers and I sometimes look on in horror with the abuse people dish out yet am grateful for the nuggets of wisdom and food for thought that other people put out there. As usual – you’re on point with your words AND the GIFs! You are the Queen of GIFs!

  • mumabulous

    I dont have the intestinal fortitude to do battle on the internet. Additionally I view myself as under-qualified to influence people’s opinions except when it comes to certain TV shows.

    • You’ve had unto,d positive influences there.mif not for you I probably wouldn’t have watched Vikings, and then where would we be, I ask you?!

  • I think that this was a great piece of advice ‘ You’re not obliged to right the wrongs of the world online.’ And I feel like sometimes I need to carry this into the real world too.

    • Thanks Shari! I’m glad to have written something helpful 🙂

  • TeganMC

    Well said! There are times when I look at an article and see that it has 300 comments and back away slowly. I very rarely read the comments on local media when it’s something controversial. Seeing people you know who work with vulnerable people spewing opinions about how the boats need to be stopped was too much.

    • Oh yes, I’m always shocked when I see people I know, even vaguely, spewing hate like that. It’s horrid.

  • As always Amy you make a lot of real sense! I am going to try really hard to put this into practise I often find that I try to distance myself but simply struggle with that concept either that or I will deliberately keep poking the bear and then get hurt or upset when the bear bites me back. I need to not engage as much that will really help. Thank you for sharing this xoxo

  • Helen King

    Great reminders. I do sometimes get into debates and occasionally I need to step back myself and think ‘why am I getting involved?’ Am I likely to persuade someone, is it an issue that matters, or (for me) sometimes it is an outlet from a frustrating day – I’m looking for some validation from another source. If it’s this last one, or if I am likely to get worked up and take that out on those around me – time to step away. Not that I always do – but I am trying to!

  • Very true. I’m glad you are aware of the toll it can take on you and back away when you need to.

    I’m also happy to see *headdesk* used!

  • Kirsty @ My Home Truths

    I’m sorry you had to experience that wave of ire and hate and bigotry (even though they called YOU a bigot!!??) I agree you need to stand up for what is right but you have to take a step back if it is affecting your life in adverse ways. I need to step up more than I do as I tend to avoid confrontation (it’s a lifelong thing) so I applaud you for continuing to engage and trying to change minds for the better x

    • Yeah, that was pretty funny! It happened again last week in an atheist group. I said that there had been instances of terrorism not enacted by Muslims and got called a bigot for that. Go figure!

  • I was more than pleased to be in Fiji and miss all the election lead up. I don’t buy into battles too often. It don’t really see the point. I’d rather focus my energy elsewhere x

  • Yes! This is how I feel everyday when I sign on Facebook. You’re right, it’s not pretty in America right now, so I can definitely agree that Internet Battle Fatigue is real!

    • I know, there is so much in the US that must be discussed and worked through, and so many unwilling to see it!

  • I must admit, I have given up. I used to be someone who got into arguments all the time but I’m beat. And I hear you when you say we still need to fight the good fight but maybe when I feel stronger, I’ll try again

    • You’re under no obligation- you look after you first, I reckon.