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Navigating Online Conflict

By Pam Montgomery, Feb 13 2016 07:30PM

It has happened to many of us at one time or another - you're happily perusing the web, posting a brillant status update, sharing your most recent flash of insight or chatting with a friend when "BAM" you get flamed.

From -

flame: a flame is a tirade. The flamer may be quite articulate and intelligent as they question the upbringing of the flamee. One can also flame about a third party to a conversation. Finally, a flame may be from an idiot, in response to a reasonable post from someone else.

So, what to do next? How you respond will either feed the fire or douse it. It will, also, show your friends (and more importantly) the world who truly you are. Remember, anyone in the world can view your posts: your children, your boss, your future spouse...everyone, and what they read will inform their impression of your maturity, communication skills, and character. Therefore, it's important to remember these few important rules for communicating online.


1. When posting, remember that the readers of your posts will filter your words through their past experiences of you, of themselves and of the world. Use words that are specific, use emoticons to clarify the 'feel' of your post, and know that you WILL, at some point, be misunderstood - no matter how clearly you communicate.

2. Don't post passive-aggressive memes, messages or status updates. I can't tell you how often I've read, or been tempted to write, a post that begins with "Some people should...blah, blah, blah" or to post a meme that proves that poster is right about something and the other person, who they know will see the post, is wrong or hurtful or, in some way, 'the bad guy.' These posts are clearly aimed at a particular person or persons and, believe me, they know who they are. Though, typically, if the supposed bad guy confronts the poster they will be told, "that wasn't even about you."

You can not win when confronting the veiled hostility of passive-aggression.

This kind of communication is simply bait for conflict. It not only provokes the person you are obviously angry with but also shows the rest of the world that you either (a) lack healthy conflict resolution skills or (b) have impulse control issues. It makes things uncomfortable for everyone involved. Call a supportive friend and vent instead.

3. When posting a controversial opinion, it would be wise to acknowledge upfront that it is controversial and that others might have their own opinion. This helps to assure others that you know they may have a differing opinion and that they don't necessarily need to post it as a comment to your post. Otherwise, they might feel the need to inform you of such fact.

Person 1: Red is the best color!

Person 2: That is a totally subjective comment. Colors are neither good nor bad. In fact, DaVinci once stated that a person who chooses one color over another as better or worse is an idiot.

Person 1: You can't tell me what to think. I'm allowed to have my own opinion


Person 1: I think red is the best color! YMMV (your mileage may vary) or JMHO (just my honest opinion)

Person 2: I don't think one color is any better than the other, but I get that it's your opinion.

4. When you read someone else's post and feel the need to correct or attack them, because they are clearly wrong (IYHO: in your honest opinion), ask yourself if it is really worth it or if it will change anything in the long run. Ask yourself what is really important in your relationship with this person...connection or correction. Usually, it is the connection that draws you to one another - remember that when communicating online.

Also, remember that a flippant Facebook post never changed anyone's moral stance or political opinion...that I'm aware of. Do you want to be 'right' or do you want to connect?

5. Never bring offline conflict online for public consumption. This is just common sense. Your friends, provided they are adults, don't want to be dragged into your arguments to be used as tools to affirm your rightness or victimization. It is wiser to simply talk to a trusted friend or counselor offline and resolve your conflict there as well.


1. If someone flames you, think before you respond. It might be wise to give yourself 24 hours to consider a response. Or, you might choose to write a response offline and save it to your computer. Then, see if you really need to post it after 24 hours. You may find, with time, that you can come up with a more articulate or grace-filled response.

2. Consider responding offline or in private rather than dragging everyone you know into the issue. It's so uncomfortable, even painful, to watch dysfunction happening over the internet.

If it is your post that has disintegrated into conflict, you might choose to simply delete the post and move on. By doing so your friends don't feel the need to defend you (this is a codependent response...give me a call if you perpetually defend your friends online) Then, send a private message or, better yet, make a phone call to the person that you're having conflict with so that you can resolve the issue in a mature manner.

3. Choose not to respond. Honestly, often times the person that flamed you or was passive-aggressively attacking you was simply projecting their own issues onto you. A response, no matter how well phrased, might simply drag the relationship into oblivion. Understand that you don't always need to respond - there is no shame in quietly turning the other cheek. It is actually a sign of maturity to be able to censor your responses and, after careful consideration, to let things go. Consider waiting until the next time you see that person and you can ask, "I assumed that comment (or meme) was about me. Is there something we need to talk about?" Until then, just let it be.

4. Accept the fact that you may be wrong. If someone is attempting to correct you, before you respond in anger, ask yourself if there is any truth to their words, if there is anything you might not be seeing in yourself that this person (who has been a caring friend in the past) might be trying to help you process. Our friends are meant to be mirrors of ourselves, reflecting to us our best and worst selves. Maturity is the abilty to admit that you have a shadow (or dark) side and accepting yourself just the same. We are all human and still have work to do.

5. Ask yourself what you already know about the person making the comment. Do they have a history of treating you badly, of misunderstanding and lashing out in anger, of projecting their thoughts and beliefs onto others (cheaters think everyone cheats, liars think everyone lies, takers think everyone takes) or is this out of character? If it is out of character, assume that they meant well and consider letting it go and chalking it up to a bad day.

If this hostility, however, is a recurring pattern, don't be afraid to take care of yourself. It's likely that this is a toxic relationship. If so, you can only take care of yourself, adjust your privacy setting so the person can't post on your wall or respond to status updates.

Then, set boundaries regarding further communication ie. if they continue berating or humiliating you in public, block their ability to comment or, even, unfriend them online (you can always choose to still be friends in real life, unless the behavior continues in real life as well)

6. Ask for clarification. It is possible that either they or you misinterpreted something that was said earlier. It never hurts to clarify.

Ultimately, online communication is an imperfect art. The best you can do is put yourself in the other person's shoes, remember that there are no visual or emotional cues to online communication and be willing to respond with grace rather than contempt.

After all, you are friends with this person for a reason and it is your choice to respond in a way that will either further the friendship or lead to its dissolution. Again, it's up to you.

I believe that, when relating to people on a social networking site, the best rule of thumb is to do what your mom told you and, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

* is a database of contemporary language. I do not endorse much of what is shared there and do not suggest using the site if you are sensitive to indelicate language or topics.

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