Fuss into Fans
Avoid Internet arguments and turn messy situations into friendships
As someone who moderated social media accounts for large companies, I developed a skill for replies to even the snarkiest of comments.
First let me say this: Communicating online is a skill that must be learned. Many of the cues we get with face-to-face communication don’t exist, and so it’s easy for conversations to be misinterpreted.
If you’re someone who is reactive to comments, here are some strategies I employ that help turn a snarky commentator into a buddy.
(Please note that I’m talking about earnest replies that are snarky/mean…not trolls. Trolls should be ignored/not engaged with, or they’ll keep coming back. It’s also good for other trolls to see you don’t become angry when trolled.)
1. Wait before responding.
Your knee-jerk reaction is likely to be an emotional one. Take a few minutes (or hours) to digest the comment.
Remove your ego from the situation. Resist the urge to reply back with an emotional string of examples on how you’re right.
This is the hardest part, I promise you.
When someone challenges us, it’s normal to go on the defensive. This reaction is normal, but it’s not helpful. And it’s not conducive to good conversation.
If you see something that makes you feel, on an emotional level, personally attacked, you’ll respond in kind: In self-defense.
So take a second, breathe, and realize: Words online do nothing to you. You do not have to even acknowledge them. The power is yours.
You do not have to defend yourself or go into a defensive mindset. Do whatever it is you have to do to be grounded, to feel safe, and to realize that this person may not have taken that step before leaving said comment/response.
2. Show you understand their side.
Many comments make a point that is just slightly off-topic, and that usually means your article or post didn’t quite relate to that person, and they want to make you aware of their side.
When someone does this, they can be sarcastic in tone…because they don’t feel they were represented. They felt like somehow, your post was an attack on them.
That’s where most of this snark comes from: People confusing words on a screen with an attack on who they are.
When someone makes a sarcastic point, the best thing is to not return the sarcasm, and instead agree with their point. You can encourage them to write their own post on the subject matter (genuinely), but being sarcastic back or getting on the defensive about your piece will just aggravate the argument.
You’re never going to write something that represents the full scope and complexity of the subject you’re talking about. People are going to point that out sometimes. It’s okay for them to point that out, and it’s also okay for you to stick to what you’re an expert in…without getting defensive.
It’s okay to say, “I agree with you; I’m just not covering that in this particular article. I’d be interested to see what you’d write about it!”
Instead of getting defensive back, which helps nothing.
3. Limit emojis and exclamation marks.
When someone already doesn’t like you, adding !!! and 🤗😀 seem sarcastic and mocking, not genuine.
A simple, earnest response without super peppy emojis comes across as more sincere…too much pep makes someone think you’re mocking them.
It’s kind of like if someone comes to you upset, and you’re overly cheerful in response.
It’s just kind of…demeaning.
4. If they seem to want to have a long conversation, take it off the public forum.
A lot of these “arguments” are over the second you say, “DM me and we can talk more about it!”
If you offer to help someone in private or talk to them in private, the people who are looking for reactions will disappear…and likely won’t comment again.
This tip might give you some anxiety, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend this if you feel frightened of the person making the comment.
But honestly, this has helped me diffuse so many potentially heated issues.
In Internet comments, you’re not just thinking about the person you’re talking to…but the reaction of others. You ever have a person who is too cool when they’re in a group, but they’re humble one-on-one?
John Travolta in Grease?
It’s the same online.
Most of the point of Internet arguments is for them to be public and to see the public’s reaction. Once the public factor is gone, you’ll be left with only people who want to have a real conversation with you.
And guess what? People who read the comments will see that when someone has an issue with you, you’re willing to talk it out.
Privately, of course.
And if someone actually talks to you in private, they will most likely be way nicer dealing with you one-on-one.
I’ve had a lot of good conversations that started with someone being snarky in comments…and then we end up agreeing when we actually message one another.
5. Have a “stock reply” for people who are just jerks all the time.
I had a sexist comment on one of my feminist posts that was clearly just out to aggravate me. But, at the end of the day, that person read my work and commented, which probably helps with some metric or algorithm.
My response? “Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion.”
(But really, I didn’t have to reply at all.)
He never responded to that or anything else I wrote.
If you have a polite and pleasant reply (that also shuts it down), trolls will see they cannot rattle you, and they’ll leave you be.
So be polite and remember: That’s still one person who read your stuff.
(And it’ll give a chuckle to the other people who read the comments.)
6. Do not give anything to push back on…aka keep it really short.
Do not give hypothetical situations or examples.
This will just give people license to poke holes and take the conversation to a philosophical place where they can imagine you’re wrong all day and you’re stuck backpedaling because they focused on a small part of what you said instead of the overall point.
Also, do not promise follow-up activities unless you deliver on them.
I also like to thank people. People like being thanked, and if someone is just interested in trolling, coming at them with a thank you will deflate them from the start.
And if someone is not a troll, but just someone who had a snarky moment, they will probably respond to you with a kinder tone since you acknowledged them and thanked them for their time.
“Thanks for sharing. I’ll look into that.”
“I never thought of it that way. Thanks for sharing your side of this.”
This bit of advice includes knowing when to stop…you don’t always need the final word.
7. View all comments as potentially positive.
After all, someone took the time to read and comment on something you did. Someone you may not even know!
We take that for granted now. But it is still a bizarre and potentially beautiful thing. Come at your comments with gratitude instead of suspicion, and even the snarkiest of folks may suddenly turn warm.
8. Forgive yourself.
Sometimes, you’re going to say something you didn’t mean to say.
Forgive yourself, and get back on track ASAP…and do some damage control.
You’re human, and sometimes you’re going to react emotionally.
When you remember that the person who is leaving a sarcastic comment is just going through their own cycle of fear, anger, and defensiveness, it becomes easier to communicate with them.
After all, everyone just wants to be heard.