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COLUMN: Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut

By Lis Stewart
On March 19, 2014

I got into my first ever Facebook fight over Spring Break.

It was completely ridiculous. Somebody posted an article I was interested in, somebody made an offensive comment on it, and I was off. I typed out a reply that seemed witty and completely justified at the time. I double-checked my grammar, re-read it several times to make sure I made my point well and pressed that oh-so-inviting blue button.

I then made the mistake of not checking back for a couple hours.

The notifications on my smartphone blew up as people bantered back-and-forth, the actual reason for the post forgotten as everyone accused everyone of being judgemental. The original poster made sure to tag me in a comment that made fun of the fact that I live in little old Logan, Utah, which of course had nothing to do with the subject at hand.

While I do make fun of Cache Valley on occasion, that one really stung.

As I typed my reply to her geocentric words, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. My conscience started making fun of me, as we would have said in high school, “hard-core.”

“Seriously? You are going to let them bait you?” she asked. “You shouldn’t have posted that in the first place. You are making it worse. This argument is crossing lines it shouldn’t.”

I didn’t start the argument, but I fueled it.

I like to think the online world is a safe place where views can be shared, examined and discussed in a rational manner. The fact is that social media is not the place for controversial topics when people are going to resort to personal attacks and not try to understand the other side. Remember, these are real people you are talking to. They have their opinions and probably think they are just as right as you think you are.

Another lesson here is a timeless one that also applies to the real world: Sometimes it is better to keep your mouth shut.

Over the last year, I’ve gotten gutsier with what I share on social media. I think it has lost me a few friends and gained others. Those who were close to me already knew my opinions, but now it’s out in the open to my more than 500 virtual friends how I feel about certain things.

Spring break’s Facebook fight was a wake-up call to the fact that some opinions, however, should be weighed and guarded. Although the person who posted the article lives in another state and we are not likely to meet again, I bet some of the other people who commented will run into her someday. That meeting will be awkward.

If you must keep posting and commenting on controversial issues via social media, here are a few things points of advice:

1. Get used to someone who opposes you leaving their opinion. It could be educational, anyway.

2. Get used to the “troll” friend who makes a point of leaving a slightly off-kilter and offensive comment on every post. Or better yet, get rid of him.

3. Think about the effect it will have one those who care about you. Do you really want to stir up trouble when you are going to run into upset relatives at a family Christmas party?
4. Fact check. As Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

5. You don’t have to reply to everyone’s comment. Sometimes it is better to leave alone.

There is also another solution.

I started arguing with my personal Jiminy Cricket until I realized I never liked the person who posted the article that started the online bantering. Why are we friends on Facebook?

I found the perfect solution to my problems: I unfriended her.

Lis Stewart is a senior studying print journalism and political science. She’s in the process of cleaning out her Facebook friends list, but you can become one of her Twitter followers: @CarpetComm.

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