No exit: Why quitting social media is a losing proposition

Perhaps what we need, then, is a range of graceful “exit strategies” that enable people to back out of a discussion when it gets uncomfortably heated. Technology can make this easier by providing convenient ways to “unfollow” a conversation or perhaps just hide (or delete) an entire thread. But the key really lies in both sides’ willingness to respect (at least in that polite-fiction manner that generally suffices for etiquette) that withdrawal from a conversation implies nothing about its content. However angry we are, we cannot demand a rebuttal from our friends, nor should we accuse them of cowardice or oversensitivity if they wish to disengage. On the other hand, withdrawing parties may not claim victory by fiat, nor are they entitled to the last word in the conversation. If you don’t want to talk about it any more, stop talking.

Facebook, because it enables people to edit their own comment threads, is particularly bad in this respect. Airing an opinion in public and deleting people’s replies is deeply insulting. It is as though you had invited friends for a dinner party and held forth on your own opinions, only to silence anyone who tried to offer a contrasting view. (‘Nobody wants to know what you think!”) Friends occasionally point out to me that they might, in fact, evict someone from a dinner party if that person was behaving badly and making others uncomfortable. Deleting comments in the virtual sphere is much the same thing. Here, then, is my suggestion: delete comments only as often as you evict people from your home. If everyone will stick to that rule, I think we’ll probably be fine.