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Hey, it happens. No one goes through life without an adversary or at least some adversarial moments. But, when those moments happen on the internet, chaos can ensue, and what’s more, these conflicts have digital proof that stays online forever.
In my experience, the internet can sometimes be a howling maw devoid of nuance. Tweets spew 280 characters, hardly with the room to draw subtle distinctions or explain the provenance of one’s point of view. These online battles are often pitched, polarized and intractable.
Should you find yourself in one, the trick is to lean into it — but to do so constructively. In my own public relations practice, we often coach our clients through online conflict and we have learned a few tips that could prove useful if you ever find yourself in the crosshairs on Twitter:
1. Establish your own narrative.
The first step to getting ahead of a story someone else is purporting is to plainly and simply state your own side. This can, of course, be accomplished on Twitter in multiple tweets, but it also works as an opinion piece or as a blog on a personal site or a platform like LinkedIn or Medium when appropriate. Simply and humbly state your point of view, and don’t project emotions onto others’ actions or speculate about their motivations. Stick to your own story.
2. Don’t get defensive.
Assert yourself and your reasoning, but don’t hit back. Accept accountability wherever you can. In fact, admitting that your points might’ve been misunderstood because you could have made yourself clearer is a gracious move.
3. Delineate what is at stake.
Don’t tussle for the sake of a tussle. Let your audience or followers know why you feel so compelled to explain yourself online. Be vulnerable and authentic — you will be more relatable. Ideally, showing your vulnerability will create a space where the other side can feel comfortable showing vulnerability as well.
4. Make concessions where you can.
Very rarely is something in life truly all or nothing. If you have any room to give your online adversary leeway, you ought to. This doesn’t apply to a troll or a bully, but if someone genuinely has a difference of opinion with you that has spilled over into real-world consequences, allow them some slack if you can.
5. Educate yourself.
Especially if a conflict arises from cultural differences or other often sensitive areas, ask your followers what resources you might be able to consume to learn more about where your own understanding is weak. When this is not merely performative and you put in the work, you learn a great deal and, even if you feel you’ve been wronged, understand how someone else saw the issue.
6. Put your money where your mouth is.
If there are any charities or mutual aid or other ways to donate to a cause that concerns your point of friction, donate and amplify voices that are concerned with any issues at stake. Find a community you can help as a gesture of goodwill.
7. Find a way forward.
Come up with actionable steps to solutions that benefit all parties involved. Even if your online conflict is not about a shared solution with anyone in particular, you can always demonstratively change your own behavior and be more open to criticism and dialogue. You can always do more to learn.
8. Don’t whitewash.
If there is a messy Twitter exchange in your feed or an online forum that got ugly, keep it up there. Keep a public record of your path forward, both to show others that you have grown and you are open to constructive conversations. That will give you more authenticity and authority than almost any PR campaign can.
Today, the internet can be a tough environment to navigate — especially when it comes to online conflict. Be prepared to approach online situations with a level head and take the steps necessary to get out ahead of an online conflict.