Online Behavior, Vol. 18, Issue 31

Dear Etiquetteer:

When, and how, and if, should I reply to rude behavior on social media? I'm thinking less of angry arguments, and more about proclamations of taste, made by closer friends and family, that insult those that do not share it. My preferred mode is silence, but not addressing it also makes me incredibly stressed and sometimes sad.

Dear Stressed and Sad:

When considering how to interact with someone whose public statements have offended you - or at least made you raise your eyebrows - the first thing to ask yourself is what outcome you want. If all you want is to express your own view, that’s one thing. If you want to change that person’s behavior, or at least make that person reconsider how they make others feel, that’s another. Regardless, you need to acknowledge to yourself that, no matter what you say, it’s possible that this person’s behavior will not change.

People often entrench themselves further in beliefs or behaviors if they feel publicly shamed. Etiquetteer can’t find that surprising; when attacked, one’s instinct is to defend one’s position. This makes a private approach less threatening, whether by email, private message via social media*, by letter, or even in person one on one**. Express yourself calmly (verbal pyrotechnics feel so satisfying, but don’t always help solve the problem) along the lines of “What you said about [Insert Issue Here] isn’t something I agree with. I may not change your mind, but I want to tell you why I think the way I think.” Then dispassionately state your case. Sometimes links to online references help; other times they give the appearance of hectoring. Use discernment.

It’s also important to point out that not everyone cares about what other people think, and not everyone cares about being polite. This always makes Etiquetteer think of Katharine Hepburn in “The African Queen:” “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this earth to rise above.”

With that in mind, we have to accept that the reputation of Twitter is that of an online platform where Volanic Hurly-Burly is preferred over Civil Discourse. Think twice before engaging there. Yes, Etiquetteer is on Twitter - all the etiquette writers are - but engaging there only with Perfect Propriety!


*This is not quite the same thing as “sliding into the DMs!”

**This means not in a party setting, even just off in the corner.