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Discussion 1 to Ask the Patriarch 247
Further comments on FB blocking

by: Will Petillo

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Hi Sara,

I agree with JT that you don't need to feel cowardly about using the FB provided block feature to avoid conversations that achieve little other than making you feel drained. One general caution I would mention, however, (which may or may not apply to your specific situation) is that blocking (or un-friending) a person prevents them from corresponding with you about anything. Sometimes, people who are irrational, mean, or otherwise not someone you want to talk to about certain topics (often religion and politics) are perfectly reasonable on other topics, have a great sense of humor, and so on. When someone says mean things about you on a public forum it is difficult to ignore. But if you can manage it, simply disengaging from the conversation may be a more appropriate way of dealing with conversations that have proven fruitless. I find it helps to explicitly sign off in some way and then not even read any further replies. If someone persists in haranguing you, despite all polite attempts to ignore, that is what blocking is best for.

Both blocking and ignoring, however, are ways of dealing with a situation that has gone wrong much earlier, so it may be useful to step back and look at how you got into the antagonizing conversation in the first place. When someone posts a comment, article, etc. that one strongly disagrees with, it can be hard to just let it go...and the fact that their posts are public and made with the intent of influencing others makes it even more difficult. In addition, responding with a sarcastic remark is easier and more emotionally satisfying than attempting a lengthy dialogue (and generally gets the same results anyways). But I suggest that it is important to look past what you feel needs to be said and towards how you expect your comments to be received and whether you are prepared to deal with the likely response. For that, it is useful to recognize a few things:

  1. It doesn't matter how "right" you are. If there are any holes in your statements, others will find them; if there are no holes but there are ambiguities, they will read them in the worst possible way; if there are no holes or ambiguities (miraculously), then they will ignore what you wrote and respond to the argument they wish you had made.
  2. Challenging someone's beliefs, especially antagonistically and even more especially in public, is far more likely to cause the other person to dig in and/or reinforce their sense of persecution than to undermine those beliefs.
  3. Often, when someone makes a controversial post on FB, they are not looking for an argument. Rather, they are hosting what I call a "Confirmation Bias Party" (I created a group relating to this phenomenon on FB, all are welcome to join), where they are looking for mutual validation from like-minded individuals. I know from experience that crashing a Confirmation Bias Party has all the negative effects of (2) above, but worse. There may be a way of turning one of these Parties into reasonable discussions where people are open to changing their minds, but I haven't figured it out yet.
  4. If you are interested in getting people to think differently, the best way to do that is to develop your own thoughts, articulate them on your own forum (or one like this), and let others come to you by their own choice. If genuinely influencing others is not your goal in commenting on your brother's posts...then what is your motivation? If, after honest reflection, you find you are driven by an impulse you are better off without, then it may be better to use the situation as a chance to exercise restraint.