What To Do When Your Mate Goes Off On One On Social Media
The Debrief: We've all got a friend who's lovely IRL, but frightening on Facebook. What do you do?
This morning, I lost it. I was trying to dry my hair (which, in 30 degree heat, is less fun than searching for the back of an earring that has been dropped in Katie Price’s vajazzling kit) and accidentally blew a load of papers off my bedside table. Calmly and rationally, I shouted ‘HOW VERY DARE YOU?’ – ‘you’ being the papers, the table and the hairdryer, the three inanimate objects that were clearly conspiring against me. Instead of picking everything up and sorting it out, I absent mindedly went on Twitter, where someone was complaining about something that had happened on Game Of Thrones. The tweet I almost sent to them read something like ‘You’re getting feminism wrong, you narrow minded twat!’
I have never met the tweeter in real life, and I do not watch Game of Thrones.
Hopefully this illustrates that, within a certain set of circumstances, we are all capable of being The Worst. Temperature, tiredness and thoughtlessness can lead us to saying stuff that we know to be truly horrifying. And there’s something about social media that really unleashes our inner Katie Hopkinses. When it happens once a year we can let it go but some of the sweetest, kindest people get a taste for it, and start treating their Facebook as though they’re on a The Wright Stuff phone in. Their social media chat is entirely separate from their pub persona but when the former is putting you right off the latter, what can you do?
Consider the context
We wouldn’t be on the internet if we didn’t want to get attention. If something is happening in a friend’s life to make them feel powerless, posting something controversial puts the power back in their hands. Science writer Rachael Rettner identifies various sociological studies that confirm school bullies seek out negative attention in the playground because they don’t get much attention at all at home. Perhaps we should be over this when we’ve reached our twenties – but perhaps it’s harder for ‘good’ girls to find ways to lash out. So if your mild-mannered friend suddenly starts expressing weird ideas about immigration, it’s best not to take the strange social behaviour at face value.
Say it privately, in good time
If you’re horrified and offended by a sudden outpouring of anger, it’s important that you don’t respond when you’re in full, emotional flow. We talk about the importance of ‘calling out’ – drawing attention to someone’s transgressions – but making your feelings public isn’t helpful to you or them. There’s a self-righteous element of ‘look how wonderful I am, recognising an obvious bad!’ as well as a sense that you’re not distressed or offended, you’re just spoiling for a fight. Spend time gathering your thoughts, and send a private message.
Don’t give it oxygen
‘CAN’T BELIEVE @PREVIOUSLYLOVELYMATE is a MENINIST APOLOGIST WHO THINKS THAT IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES IT IS OK TO CLUB BABY SEALS,’ might be what your brain is thinking, but there is a reason that there’s a machine and a pair of hands that stands between you and the act of tweeting your thoughts verbatim. Outrage is powerful and if you fan its flames and encourage people to join you, you won’t get your friend to change their mind. You might accidentally encourage them to give their bank details to the National League of Seal Haters.
Ask if they’re alright
Hurt people hurt people. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that sending negative, angry messages to an audience of strangers is like choosing to emit a series of smoke signals that spell out ‘I’m not o-fucking-kay.’ If this person has been a good friend to you, don’t abandon them. Be a good friend back, and check in. If you show them they are loved, they’ll stop spreading the hate. (Bono, if you are reading this, I will sell you this line as a lyric for £75,000 and a piggyback from The Edge.)
Reassess the friendship
You don’t have to agree with your friends about everything, all the time. Some of my closest pals are Tories. A couple don’t like calling themselves feminists. One thinks James Arthur is a more talented vocalist than Sam Bailey. But occasionally you learn something about a friend that means you just can’t be friends with them any more. Sexism, racism and homophobia are the obvious holy trinity of dealbreakers, but I recently decided to end a friendship after a former pal went on a Facebook rant about her right to sleep with married men. In almost all cases, scary social media behaviour can be addressed, but occasionally it means a friendship has reached its expiration date.
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