Sammy Nickalls
November 08, 2015 6:08 am

We’ve all seen a Facebook fight unfold on the Internet and made the questionable decision to actually join in the battle. What started as a seemingly open and even fun discussion about the political debate last night, somehow ended up as a virtual screaming match about vaccines. Though Facebook commenting wars happen to us all, they can be devastating in their effects; according to a Pew study released in 2012, 15% of adults and 22% of teenagers have actually had friendships end because of a Facebook fight. Yeesh.

So if getting into an online discussion is so predictably terrible, why do we do it? As always, the answer can be explained by science — as can the way we should handle Facebook arguments, notes a recent Mashable exposé on the topic.

Associate professor of psychology at the University of North Florida Tracy Alloway, who studies how empathy is shared through social media, explained to Mashable that some people start Facebook arguments because they genuinely want to get into a discussion and think it can change our perspective, while others actually want to start a fight. After all, posts about us— including our intense political beliefs — can actually make our brains quite happy indeed. And it all has to do with dopamine.

“Dopamine is a [feel-good] hormone, and it’s released when we’re talking about ourselves,” Alloway told Mashable. “We get the same pleasure rush when we enjoy a really good meal, or have sex.”

But you’ve probably noticed that Facebook arguments rarely end in actual pleasure. In fact, they often crash and burn, leaving broken friendships in their wake. That’s because 65% of communication is nonverbal, and when we lose that 65% through a screen, the consequences can be disastrous. “You don’t understand their context, their feelings, their emotions, all you have to go on is reflected in your screen,” psychology professor at California State University Larry Rosen, who studies social media conversations, told Mashable.

So our brains fill in the blanks — they assume the other people involved in the conversation are having fun with it, too. We assume they’re having some good-natured fun, and, you know, NOT about to comment furiously linking to an article on economics that they’ve barely read. “We imagine they’re enjoying the conversation as much we are,” Rosen told Mashable.

But often, this isn’t the case — and because it’s all online, and because we’re losing that 65% of communication, a fight on Facebook can implode much faster and more permanently than an argument IRL. Insulting an article someone posted is insulting their sense of self, which is built on others agreeing with them. “[F]riendships in the virtual world form very quickly, so they can unfold just as quickly,” Rosen told Mashable. “. . .your best friend can become your worst enemy in one day.”

So what to do? Stop posting links that could at all be considered controversial? Defriend all people who are argument-happy? Avoid Facebook entirely? Nope, there’s something that can help this whole situation: Positive feedback.

“Positive feedback makes people feel good about themselves,” UCI Professor of Psychology Peter Ditto told Mashable. “. . .affirmation allows people to express their values somehow, letting people pick their top values.”

So even if your friend’s views on gun control make you twitch with anger, either avoid their post entirely, or just comment good-naturedly — without any intent to change their views. Because let’s be real. . . when have you ever witnessed someone’s opinions actually being changed from a Facebook argument? Be the bigger person. . . for your own sanity.

(Image via Shutterstock.)

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