After 10 years, the friends we've made on Facebook represent every stage of life — professional acquaintances, college hookups, retired third-grade teachers, once-popular high school classmates who are now married with four kids — and all they seem to want to do is argue. Our News Feeds often feel like a deranged social experiment: We've shepherded every bored, belligerent person we know into in a tiny room and locked the door while we watch from behind a two-way mirror.
Facebook is crowded, chaotic and often quite entertaining; amid the banality of cat videos, clickbait and filtered selfies, the occasional burst of fighting can breathe some fire into the feed.
But what happens when we find ourselves dragged into the scrum, or, worse yet, when we jump in ourselves?
"What do I do?" she asked. "This is so awkward!"
Sometimes, against our better judgment, we end up caught the middle, because we have a vested interest in either the people or the argument in question.
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance found herself trapped between two Facebook friends: the significant other of a coworker and a man she was friendly with, professionally and personally. She had posted an essay written by the first friend, and the second friend took issue with some of its points. He posted them in the comment section, and the two started arguing.
"What do I do?" she asked. "This is so awkward!"
The best answer is "nothing." There's no crying in baseball, there's no business like show business and there are no winners on Facebook. Nobody looks good, no one leaves happy and no one is going to remember what happened next week anyway.
Facebook may be full of people you know, but it's still the Internet, and you can't win on the Internet. The woman was correct — the situation was awkward, and everyone knew it — but in the end, she sat out, and likely saved herself in the process.
But it's not always that easy. If you're more than a simple "Happy Birthday"-on-the-wall Facebook friend with either party, things get tricky.
"I just unfollow," a coworker boasted of his method. "And I delete any comments I don't want on my page."
"I just unfollow," a coworker boasted of his method. "And I delete any comments I don't want on my page." Fair enough — but what happens when one of the people involved is your mother? Your girlfriend? Your boss? Censoring an old high school friend with whom you barely speak is Facebook's version of housekeeping; doing the same thing to the person you sit next to at family dinners or at board meetings is considerably less wise.
Oftentimes, the corner you end up bouncing around in will depend upon your comparative relationship with each person, and is thus subjective from person to person. But the following rubric is a start.
1. Friends of friends, random cousins and former coworkers: Ignore. They're second-degree connections, and unless you're especially close with them (or they're weirdly obsessive), they likely won't remember that one time you didn't come to their defense.
2. Boss: When wouldn't you side with the person who hired you? As one of my editors put it, "Paychecks ain't nothing to fuck with." Don't throw shade at your colleagues unless you want them talking about you on Slack behind your back the next day. But if your boss is really being a jerk, and it's making your whole company look bad, confront her privately and pick your words well.
3. Possible love interest: Consider carefully whether you're willing to sacrifice this person as a bedmate before making a decision. If you're willing to alienate him before whatever "thing" between you two even gets off the ground, that's ballsy. Godspeed.
4. Bad ex-partner: Why haven't you muted this person yet? What are you doing with your life? Hide the post, silence him and move on.
5. Parents: On one hand, they're probably used to you giving them shit. On the other hand, they might not understand that Facebook functions outside of real life, or get the distinction between the public News Feed and what used to be your Facebook Wall. For the most part, it's probably fine to educate your dad about, say, transgender issues and Caitlyn Jenner — they are your parents, after all, and they raised you to think critically and independently.
6. Significant other: If you're playing along in an argument your significant other is having on Facebook, you likely have bigger problems than those contained within a social network. Like a possible love interest, however, it's usually a good idea to side with them — even if that just means liking all their comments.
It's best to air your laundry in private, however. If you decide you must beat on, boat against the current of garbage Internet fighting, do so from behind closed doors. Public arguments attract pile-ons and allow everyone else to rile you up and soon thereafter witness your sad flailing.
Instead, take it to a private message: Explain as patiently and honestly as possible what your position is and why you've taken it; throw in some modest platitudes about the pointlessness of fighting on Facebook; assure them you don't hate everything they stand for; promise to consider their point of view.
Though boring, it's a better bet than burning yourself down in an Internet flame war. And it works: My acquaintance used this method to diffuse the situation between her two friends. "I had a text exchange with him, and I was like, 'What the fuck?'" she told me a few days later. "But I did that in private."
This method won't remove the entertainment value of fighting on Facebook altogether; rather, it will simply allow you to personally sidestep it. You can use the time you would have wasted publicly yet silently shouting to microwave popcorn for the battle between Lars, your mother's veterinarian and Malcolm, who was That Guy in your sophomore-year philosophy class.
Or, you could make all of the above moot, save yourself some energy and burn it all to the ground.