Keeping It Real on Facebook

Today, on Facebook, I was asked a question, which I answered. The response to my answer was, “It was just a question.” To which I replied, “yes, and I answered it.” The asker of the question then offered that she didn’t mean for the question to be offensive. I assured her that I was not offended by the question.  (To me it seemed like she had asked a legitimate question that deserved a thoughtful answer, which I gave.) I have no desire to ‘interpret’ why she felt the need to assure me that she didn’t mean to offend me because such interpretations lead to more problems than to understanding. 

If I really wanted to pursue it, I could’ve asked her, “Why did you think it necessary to inform me that you didn’t intend to offend me?” But I actually think it would have been a waste of our time and would keep us mired in the misunderstanding and possibly dig us in deeper. Instead I chose to assure her that I wasn’t offended and let it be. That way we were free to move onto other topics. 

But this is a perfect example of how tone can be misread on a casually written venue such as Facebook. Since it is not formal writing, in many cases we leave out the details and nuances that an accomplished author uses to create a tone in his writing. It is worth remembering that these usually aren’t carefully planned out missives and in many cases not even proofread before being published. And since it is not speaking, there is no facial expression or vocal quality to establish ‘tone’. The natural casualness of Facebook ‘writing’ can easily be mistaken for flippancy.

More often than not, what happens is the reader supplies the tone based on their perspective, which may or may not match where the writer is coming from.  

For example, let's play a little game. An experiment.
I will comment, “I can’t believe you said that to me.”  Now, without seeing my face or hearing my inflections you have no access to my actual tone. And depending on what mood you’re in when you read it, you could interpret it in many different ways.
So, how would you interpret my saying that to you?

"I can't believe you said that to me."
-Am I glad you said it?
-Or am I upset by your saying it?

-Or am I neutral about WHAT you said and just surprised THAT you said anything to me at all? 

-Am I more amazed that YOU are the one that said it as opposed to someone else? 

-Or is it more incredulous to me that you said it to ME as opposed to saying it to someone else?

-Would the meaning of the sentence be made more clear if I had added ‘of all things to say to me,” before it?

All of those interpretations could logically be inferred by the sentence as it was written. But only one interpretation is accurate. In the hypothetical case above, I said “I can’t believe you said that to me,” because I was just thinking about it before you said it and I was amazed at the coincidence that you said it to me just as I was thinking it. So, did you come up with the correct interpretation?

Probably not. We're usually wrong when we attempt that.

In countless other examples from my real life experiences on Facebook, I have made an off-hand comment intended to be sarcastic and humorous. Said comment was then addressed in a way I read as taking my comment seriously. So my retort would then be to explain how I was joking, only to have the other person explain that they also were joking. Anywhere along the way, this slight misunderstanding could have really annoyed one of us to the point of being offended or hurt.

Another disconnect can happen when someone is being serious while another person is being funny. I’m a big fan of sarcasm, which can be a powder keg in the Facebook venue; especially with people who don’t know me. 

I believe that the answer to all of these potential miscommunications is to not assume any particular tone from the writer. Since we have seen that the tone can make a big difference in the way you interpret a comment, it is always better to ask for clarification than to respond based on what you assume to be the intention. This may slow down the progress of the conversation, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing; especially if said conversation would have otherwise degraded into a misunderstanding and hurt feelings. 

And another very important skill to bring with us into our Facebook forays is the ability to not take things personally. In actuality, if you just focused on not making assumptions, then this second part wouldn’t even be necessary. But just in case you do forget the first rule and you hear an insulting or offensive tone in someone else’s post, just remember this second suggestion as your safety net and let it slide off your back. 

The things that people say are about them. Even if they phrase it in a way that seems to be about you, “You are stupid,” It is really just an observation of their experience of you in that moment. If pressed, most people who have called someone else stupid would admit that they probably aren’t actually stupid, but just that they don’t share the same perspective on the topic at hand.  If you find that you are truly offended by someone’s opinion of you, it usually means that you agree with them to some degree. Like it or not, the more touchy you are about it, the more truth you find in it.

And the third thing that I want to mention is that people will visit their insecurities onto you. Any time someone gets just outright nasty with you, they are showing you their inner pain. Not intentionally, but quite clearly, they are showing you the weakness in them that was triggered by the conversation. Don’t assume it’s about you and don’t take it personally. Thank them for being so candid and go on to the next subject. 

So, by following these simple guidelines, you’ll find that whenever someone has pissed you off on Facebook, it is usually your own doing. You have either assumed their tone, taken their statement personally or have allowed yourself to be sucked into someone’s innermost pain. Don’t take it seriously. Face the realities of Facebook’s limitations and move on. 

One more thing to consider; And this is a very important and often overlooked reality. But we see the world as we are, not how it is. In other words, if you find that ‘everyone is being a bitch today’ then take a real hard look at who is the common factor in all of your recent interactions. It is you. Whenever I find myself thinking, “why is everyone so argumentative today?” I stop and look in the mirror and ask myself, “why am I being so argumentative today?” It is a big red flag whenever I hear myself using the phrase ‘everyone is’. I’ll tell you right now that I’ve discovered that phrase is code for “I am”. 

Go forth and enjoy your Facebook interactions. It should be fun. Keeping these few points in mind at all times will help prevent your fun from turning unpleasant.


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