Also I can be introverted “in real life,” online, I’m a social butterfly. I’ve been involved in many online communities over the years, and I’m in bunches of secret and private Facebook groups now. It’s a great way to connect to people in different corners of the world and people whose lives are very different than mine, as well as people who share my weird interests and passions. For this reason, I’ve seen a lot of drama, I’ve made bunches of mistakes, and I’ve learned from at least some of them. Here’s some of my advice!
1. When you first join a group, take time to understand the rules — written and unwritten.
Every online community develops its own traditions, in-jokes, and taboos over time. Take a week or two to comment on other people’s posts and get a feel for the group. That will help you avoid making a faux pas.
2. If you don’t like a post, ignoring it is usually the best policy.
Of course, there are exceptions. For the most part, though, railing against someone’s negative or offensive message just gives their message more importance. You see this play out in politics and other social spheres all the time.
In the case of Facebook groups, when you comment to say “I disagree!” or “How dare you?”, you are literally ensuring that the post gets bumped up and read by everyone. Comment on positive posts instead, so the negative one sinks to the bottom of the page.
3. Don’t get involved in every fight.
Every community has fights. You’re not required to weigh in on everything, and it’s often not worth it. Only get involved if it’s of vital importance to you.
In the middle of writing this post, something terrible went down in one of my online groups. I did feel like I had to speak up. But fighting on the internet often wouldn’t make me happy or help the communities. Even if someone takes issue with a post of mine, I avoid back-and-forth fighting most of the time. It’s easy to say, “Well, we just disagree on this one, and that’s okay.”
4. Be clear about when you’re being sarcastic or ironic.
Here’s an example of what can happen. Let’s say it’s a wedding planning group, and Amanda says, “I want royal blue and gold for my colors, but my mother thinks it’s tacky. Help!” Kayla says jokingly, “Oh my God, Amanda, royal blue and gold? What are you thinking?! Those are colors for losers! Hahaha.”
Now Kayla thinks she’s showing support. She thinks it’s obvious that she’s kidding. After all, how could anyone object to royal blue and gold?
Amanda reads the comment and thinks Kayla is trashing her wedding theme. She expresses her hurt in a reply. And since Kayla is at her job and not checking in, Amanda goes a whole day feeling terrible, and when Kayla realizes what’s happened, she feels terrible, too.
We don’t like writing “/sarcasm” or “(KIDDING! I agree with you!)” after a comment, because it does kill the joke a little. It’s more important to look out for other people’s feelings than to be hilarious, though. In a group where everyone knows each other very well, sometimes it’s not necessary, but usually, it is.
5. Don’t try to dictate what people talk about in general.
I will never understand why this happens, and it happens all the time. Someone writes a post to say, “You guys need to stop posting about politics, this is a knitting group!” — even though it’s been decided that the knitting group can talk about every topic under the sun. Or someone says, “I wish everyone would stop talking about the intimate details of their sex lives, because I think it’s gross.”
It’s absurd to try to control what a group of people, especially those you don’t know well or at all, will discuss. It will never work. “You guys suck” isn’t a particularly fun conversational topic, either. The best way to control the content of the group is to post things that interest you.
If people often say things that offend you or hurt your feelings, you can bring that up if you think it’s just thoughtless. It’s like this: “Hey, I get that you all like to make fun of the romance genre in this writing group, but it’s my genre, so do you think we could ease up on talking about that?” (This is a fictional example, pun intended. This hasn’t happened to me in a writing group.) But even if people are aware that they’re making you uncomfortable, they might not care, and there’s nothing you can do about that.
If no one else is interested in things you’re interested in, that’s not their fault, and if people repeatedly say things that upset or offend you, you’re not going to change them. You’re just in the wrong group. It happens! Go find one that suits you better. There are millions of them out there. Which brings me to my last thing…
6. Don’t flounce.
Quietly leaving a group is fine. I’ve done it a few times. Under some circumstances, leaving a group with a non-heated post of explanation is fine, too.
A flounce is when someone posts a self-righteous screed about how the group has failed to meet their expectations, how they’re all terrible, and so on. Why do people do this? I think in part it’s just venting anger, which is unlikely to make them really feel better.
Secretly, I think a person who flounces hopes that the group will say, “You know… they’re right! We need to change!” and beg him or her to stay. This never happens.
Do you have advice about Facebook groups or online communities, or would you just like to share some of your experiences? Let us know in the comments section! Thanks so much for reading!