Photo from WordSwag

Facebook debating is a bad idea

If you’re trying to build credibility and relationships, don’t get caught up in petty debates

Facebook’s mission is to be a sharing and connecting platform. It’s a place where people share what they love or what they hate and in that sense it’s the modern day digital equivalent of the Areopagus of ancient Athens.

In ancient Athens the Areopagus was a place where Epicurean and Stoic philosophers gathered to share and debate ideas. It was the place where the Apostle Paul found himself facing off with Greek pagan thinkers and where he declared, “People of Athens, I see you are very religious, but you’re also pretty ignorant” (Acts 17).

And in Acts 17:21 we learn that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”

Now if that’s not a fair description of how our culture uses Facebook, I don’t know what is!

But that’s where the similarities end.

Here are a few key differences between the Areopagus of ancient Athens and the Facebook of Modern Western society.

1. Everyone with a keyboard and an opinion can chime in

While everyone had an opinion in Athens too, only the deep thinkers, the philosophers and those with deeply thought out new ideas were allowed to take the floor.

But today anyone with an opinion and a keyboard can enter the debate. No matter how odd someone’s ideas are, they’re sure to find their way into your newsfeed. And, the only thing more annoying than that (because after all, you can’t very well unfriend uncle Ben, but you can unfollow his content while maintaining a “friends” status), is when they jump on something you’ve shared with relentless nonsense.

In all seriousness though, it’s difficult to have a reasonable conversation with a high percentage of people on Facebook. And if we’re going to be honest, that sometimes includes us too.

2. Some people just want to debate

There’s no way around this and it’s more annoying than getting your eyelid caught on a nail while falling down the side of a building.

Recently on my Facebook wall someone wanted to debate the idea that the classification of a “child” does not include an “infant.” Foolish me, I fed into the discussion by trying to explain that a “child” can be a adjective for an infant.

But the person insisted on separating “child” from “infant” and before long we were so far off the topic of the original post that I became convinced that this person just wanted to debate.

Here’s the problem:

  • Engaging these people is the biggest waste of time
  • It takes us away from our family
  • It uses up unnecessary thinking and energy (might even keep us up at night)
  • It distracts us from the things that are really important
  • It accomplishes nothing

Eventually I had to bow out of the conversation. In fact, I tried to bow out three times before I finally had to shut off my notifications. Because when someone wants to debate, lives to debate, thrives on debate (for God only knows what reasons), they will never stop. They live and move for the last word.

Let them have it.

They’re like a leaking facet. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip all night long. Fix the seal by during off the notifications. If you go away, eventually they will to.

Perhaps they’ll be satisfied that they got the final word. So be it.

You can be satisfied that you let them.

3. It accomplishes nothing

I used to get into debates on Facebook all the time. For years I surrounded myself with theologically-minded peers (whom I never met in person) to discuss the latest controversy and hot topics on Facebook.

Almost nothing good ever comes out of debating on Facebook. Click To Tweet

And after perhaps thousands of Facebook debates I can say with confidence: Almost nothing good ever comes out of debating on Facebook.

If anything, people’s views become more hardened and entrenched as they push each other deeper into their respective corners.

4. It destroys testimonies

In recent years this has become a very significant motivator for me. As a family man, a business owner and a ministry partner, I want to build a good reputation. When we debate openly on Facebook you may think that it’s just you and your interlocker. But the truth is all of the people who follow you on Facebook can potentially see the debate.

If you’re trying to build credibility, don’t get caught up in petty Facebook debates. Click To Tweet

Imagine how petty and pathetic it must have seemed to non-christian friends of mine as they watched me and another person debate whether “child” includes “infant” or not on a post discussing baby Jesus.

It’s a relational buzz-kill. If you’re trying to build credibility and relationships, don’t get caught up in petty debates. People will notice and silently you’ll lose their respect.

5. A Facebook debate is not a debate

Think about debates. They typically have moderators and they are typically for the benefit of an audience. Why? Because a debate can potentially go on forever with the stronger personality “winning” after someone eventually gives up (notice I said, stronger personality, not better argument). Moderators guarantee that both sides get equal time and that they stay on point (getting petty about side-points is a sure way to lose your opportunity to speak).

Knowing there’s a moderator also guarantees that both parties have agreed to the debate. An idea shared on Facebook does not automatically mean that someone wants to debate. Sometimes an idea is just an idea, take it or leave it.

And professional debates are typically for the benefit of the attendees who typically want to be there. Let me tell you this, no one who follows your newsfeed pulled up a bowl of pop corn on Facebook to watch you debate the meaning of “child.”

In real debates no one expects that either side will change their views (I don’t know that it has ever happened in a professional debate). The purpose of the debate are so that the audience can hear the opposing views and make an educated opinion on who has the stronger arguments.

6. Faceless Facebook

Unlike discussions over coffee where a debate can often be settled (even in happy disagreement), Facebook debates lose the benefit of body language, tone and closure.

Facebook debates lose the benefit of body language, tone and closure. Click To Tweet

As a result things are very often interpreted one way that were meant to be taken another. People react. Words are typed. Friendships are ruined.

And emoji’s are not enough to make up for it.

I have seen relationships ruined over a debate that could have been better served up and resolved over a cup of coffee at the Tim Horton’s down the street (because no matter what street you live on in Canada, there’s sure to be a Timmies close by).

Conclusion

I will leave you with this.

In my experience (and from self-examination), it takes a great deal of humility to walk away from a Facebook debate. The knowledge that others can see the discussion is a blow to one's pride because “I don’t want people to think I’m running or the other person is right or I’m conceding my point!”

But honestly nobody cares.

So swallow your pride and shut off that notification.

Dear Readers:

If ChristianWeek has made a difference in your life, please take a minute and donate to help give voice to stories that inform, encourage and inspire.

Donations of $20 or more will receive a charitable receipt.
Thank you, from Christianweek.

About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Derek is a Christian blogger at derekouellette.ca where he writes to help mission-minded believers use social media and the internet to advance God's Kingdom. He's also an author and founder of Gospel Sneeze Academy. Derek lives in Windsor, Ontario with his wife, toddler and one addition on the way.

  • Stephen J. Bedard

    Thanks for sharing this. I have no patience for Facebook debates. My policy is to clarify my statement once and then let it go. There is no point for anything more.