To Comment or Not Comment on Facebook

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Dear Miriam,

What’s the best way to decide whether or not to comment on a Facebook post? I have a lot of Facebook friends that aren’t really friends in real life, but when there’s an interesting conversation, I would like to join in without it seeming odd. I’m not talking about trolling people, but just about being part of a discussion. What do you think?

Signed,

Casual Facebook Commenter

Dear Commenter,

Before commenting on any Facebook post, I suggest asking yourself these three questions: 1) What do I hope to gain from participating in this discussion? 2) Do I have a unique perspective to share that no one else has expressed? 3) Would I want to have this conversation with these people in person? Optional additional questions are: 4) Would I recognize the original poster if we bumped into each other on the street, and 5) Would I be comfortable with my comments being shared and reposted to people I don’t know with my name attached?

If you answer all of these questions in a way that validates moving forward, then by all means, join the discussion. But do so knowing that such discussions can become a time suck and can quickly deteriorate. If someone challenges you, will you want to keep arguing, or will you be confident enough to walk away? If someone starts using inflammatory or derogatory language, do you know how you’ll want to respond? It’s also worth remembering that even if you delete a post, people can keep and share screen shots, and, even though that sounds paranoid, I’ve seen it happen.

I’m, perhaps unfairly, assuming that we’re talking about something political and/or controversial here, where the likelihood of things going badly increases with each additional comment. But when it’s something like recommendations for brands of shoes, or favorite restaurants in a geographical area, if you have a previously unstated contribution, the stakes are much lower. However, there’s still the question of why.

You might just like the community aspect of Facebook, which can be so great for recommendations, or you might actually know a babysitter in the remote destination your former college roommate’s sister is going to and be glad to help out. Just be sure you’re commenting from a place that is comfortable to you and that you won’t regret later. (Procrastination may or may not be a valid reason for engaging in these discussions, but I’ll let you work that out yourself.)

Most of the above advice goes out the window if we’re talking about subject-specific Facebook groups. These are groups that people typically join because they want a place to have more in-depth and potentially heated discussions that they’d want on their own walls, visible to friends and family. In these groups, you are usually commenting on posts from people you don’t know in real life, so go ahead and enjoy, though the pieces about arguing endlessly still hold, and it’s of course still possible that your words could be twisted or shared inappropriately. More than anything, just remember that once you write something online, you lose some aspect of control over your own words. (The irony of writing this in an online column is not lost on me.)

Finally, it’s worth asking yourself why you have so many Facebook friends that you don’t really know. If you like keeping up with people from long ago, then maybe it’s worth having some sort of “real” online relationship with them. If not, it might be worth unfriending them, not out of spite but just out of clarity for what a friend actually is. If you friended someone after a party a decade ago but haven’t seen them since, there’s very little risk of offense if you cut those ties. If you don’t have the time to cull your friend list, that is also a very fair reason.

In general, I advocate for more mindfulness when it comes to social media, and though I advocate for it, that doesn’t mean necessarily I follow my own advice. So, perhaps, see you in the comments section.

Be well,

Miriam

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