Online Fight Club

I know, I know, I know. Nothing good ever comes from voicing your opinion on Facebook.

There’s no denying that Facebook has basically re-written how we connect with other people and I won’t pretend to be an exception. I’ve written before about the time I joined a Facebook Mum group, but Facebook is also how I chat with friends, how I invite people to events and how I keep up with my own social calendar. Furthermore, it’s how I find funny things to tag my husband in (yes, I’m a memester).

That being said, I’m not a keyboard warrior. Well, not usually any way. I’ll admit, occasionally I see something I can’t just scroll past. These days, if I see anything mildly parenting related I’m interested. But I normally never do more than “like” it.

I feel like most of us would say the same thing, but why are we like that? We bleat on about how important it is to share your views, to speak your mind, to stick up for what you believe in… except when it comes to social media, most of us are active voyeurs rather than active contributors.

I have a whole blog on my views and thoughts, but on the ol’ FB I stick to commenting on friend’s family photos and not a lot else. Sure, I geezer through all the controversial comments that appear underneath a NZ Herald story, but I’d never dream of sharing my two cents. I get BEYOND angry at the constant casual racism on the East Auckland Grapevine but only ever report these posts and comments as “offensive” and leave it at that. I don’t want to get too involved and I don’t want to be ostracized for my thoughts.

The other day however, I did actually see something that I had to comment on. It happened on International Women’s Day.

I’m all for a day paying homage to how incredible and powerful women are. What I’m not all for are the companies who see the day as an opportunity to sell us stuff under the guise of “equality and empowerment”.

If I saw one more Women’s Day sale, I was going to vom. Do companies have to completely commercialise EVERYTHING?

There were however, some really great initiatives that appeared on International Women’s Day. Vodafone came out with its “Connected She Can” initiatives, aiming to be the best employer of women by 2025.

I got a little excited about that, but as a career-driven women who’s just discovered actually how AMAZING and fulfilling motherhood can be, I don’t actually want to think about re-entering the workforce until I absolutely have to.

ANZ took a leap in the right direction by pledging to extend all Paid Parental leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks, before the Government policy takes effect later in the year.

I got A LOT excited about that. Sure, my paid parental leave finished a long time ago, but I’m excited for those ANZ employees who it will benefit. How precious it must be to be able to spend more time with your family and know you’re covered financially for just a little bit longer. They were speaking my language.

So I did it. I posted. And I didn’t know it yet, but I’d started a fight. I’d started a Facebook fight.

These were my words exactly:

screencapture-facebook-ANZNewZealand-photos-a-191781470949513-39120-144157325711928-1509105039217143-2018-03-11-18_52_51.jpg

Aaand of course my mumbrain got in the way and I didn't take a screenshot of the whole comment. I think the sentence finished like this:

"Many of us feel pressured to go back in to the work force to early due to financial pressure. It's great to see a company doing something to help ease that."

In hindsight, maybe I sounded like I was dogging on Vodafone a little too much, when in reality I do really think their latest initiatives are still awesome. They’re just not relevant to me or all the new mums I know who are practically forced to back in to work because of financial pressure.

When I posted, I simply wanted to give ANZ my seal of approval. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my words. They weren’t angry words… were they?

My comment started to gain a little traction. I wasn’t going viral, thank goodness, but I’d never had over 100 strangers like a comment before. The more people liked it, the more it was displayed to people. It was contagious.

Before I knew it, I’d learnt a few things about social media, society and throwing Facebook punches.

You get caught up in what others think

It’s just what we do as human beings. We can’t help it.

I had over 100 likes, over 100 people (mainly other mums) who agreed with what I said. Naturally there were a couple of people who didn’t agree and all it took was a couple of those comments to make my stomach curl. Which made me realise…

There will always be an opposition

I really do think some people are on Facebook just looking for a fight. In response to my comment, one lady explained Vodafone’s maternity leave policies and was really nice about it (I appreciated that), but others were just arguing off topic anything they could. About men working at home, about women being professional mothers, about it all! The one comment that really got me was this one:

Rachel I don’t mean to be blunt but what exactly is it that you want...? Because it sounds like you want unlimited paid leave? That’s not how the economy works, and we shouldn’t be incentivising people to have children if they can’t afford to raise them without government assistance.

She came out punching. She made assumptions about me, about what I wanted and about what I knew about economy. Then she shut all of those assumptions down like she was shutting me down. All in one comment.

I couldn’t believe how small I felt, reading this comment silently on my phone. My husband was right next to me and had no idea what was going on. I hadn’t bothered to tell him because I hadn’t realised how these responses were going to make me feel like I was being attacked. I also didn’t realise how much it made me want to hit someone…

It’s so easy to retaliate

I didn’t only feel small, I felt angry.

Every part of me wanted to write back something snarky and condescending, or to write back defensively and perhaps add in a few swear words. I guess that’s what always ends up happening across Facebook. It’s how people get pulled in to these massive keyboard wars where insults are slung back and forth from the comfort of a smartphone screen.

You just want the last word.

Fortunately for me, my last two jobs involved dealing with angry people on social media. So here are a couple of tips to stop the punches after they begin.

How to stop the swings

1. Never react out of anger. Wait at least half an hour to respond.

2. Always start your reply with something nice.

3. Sympathise, or empathise with what the person is saying first, before addressing your own views.

4. Avoid using words that might come across condescending.

5. Never pose a question because that encourages another reply.

6. Only address the necessary parts of the fighter’s comment. You don’t need to have an answer for everything.

7. Let your aim be to diffuse the situation, not to prove that you are right (That’s the biggie!).

8. Get somebody (responsible) to read your response before you post it. That way you also won’t feel like you have to deal with a Facebook fight all by yourself.

You are more than a Facebook fight

To some extent, I had to let this Facebook thing go. I was the one who so brazenly posted in the first place; I couldn’t really blame others for interpreting my words across the internet in different ways. I had to remember life goes on. I had much more to worry about than a few flippant comments on a Facebook post.

I told my husband what was going on and I read out my response to him.

“Hi *name*, wouldn’t that be nice? But I’m not asking for anything in my post. Just saying I really appreciate what ANZ has done here and that I support it”

Under his approval I posted it and that was that. She didn’t reply. She couldn’t really, I’d tried really hard not to add fuel to the fire and so I guess it just fizzled out.

My original post continued to gather likes and there were a few more supportive comments, but something still didn’t feel right. I couldn’t keep my mind off the negative comments I’d received and I was still anxious at what someone else might say.

So I did the next most sensible thing I could do.

Remove yourself from the situation if you need to

I deleted my comment.

I didn’t really care if people suddenly realized the post was gone, or thought I’d retracted my thoughts. Whatever! No part of social media deserves to rob you of your happiness.

I don’t have time for that. That’s not why I’m on Facebook. I’m not cut out for life in the ring.

No, my views haven’t changed. If I ever needed to justify my thoughts, I would. But I’m not going to do it in a public arena when others are out for blood.

I’m glad this incident occurred, but it hasn’t changed the way I’ll speak out about something I want to support. It has however, reminded me of a few social media truths that I try to keep in mind across all my social platforms:

1. You are not defined by likes, shares or comments

2. You are not defined by how others talk about you

3. You are not defined by the photos on your Instagram feed

4. You are no less of a person if you don’t use social media in a day, week, month, year

5. You have more ahead of you than your next post or comment

6. Living life through the screen of your smartphone is not living

Some of this may sound a little contradictory coming from me, a girl who has been sharing her life on the internet for the past five months, but I’m telling you – remind yourself of those daily. I do.

I also strongly believe in being able to switch off, disconnect or delete whenever things get out of control.

After all, isn’t it better to fight where it counts? I’m not going to waste my energy on a facebook fight.

Rachel Chen