Conflict that occurs online, through social media like Facebook or twitter, and can be particularly difficult to manage. People are more likely to say something nasty online than face-to-face with the other person, because they have the benefit of things like anonymity, invisibility, and delayed reactions. Many people are likely to see the posting, which may stay online for a very long time, thus increasing the number of people who might become involved in the conflict situation. The online environment also creates opportunities for misunderstandings and for conflict to escalate very quickly, because people cannot see each other’s body language and facial expressions, nor can they quickly have a conversation to clear up the situation, which might happen if they were having the conversation in the ‘real world’.

Some typical kinds of online conflict situations include:

  • Someone posting an unflattering photo of another person online and refusing to remove it
  • Someone saying something nasty about another person online
  • Someone digs through your online profile and resurfaces old content that creates conflict
  • Someone blocks or unfriends another person on a social media site
  • Someone posts material that is offensive on another person’s timeline
  • Someone tags another person in material that that person would not want to be associated with
  • Someone posts very personal information about another person on social media

When dealing with online conflict you may choose to deal with it online or offline. To begin with, here are some tips to help you handle online conflict:

  • Don’t respond right away, sleep on it and read the message again later
  • Try reading the message with a variety of different tones, ask someone else to read it and see what they think
  • Choose whether or not you need/want to respond at all – is it better to leave it?
  • Clarify what the person meant: Is the way you are interpreting the other person’s behaviour/language the only way it could be interpreted? (i.e. without audio or visual cues, could you be mistaken about the tone/intention of the language or action?) Can you check with the person about their intention?
  • If you decide to respond, think about what you want to accomplish by your response and be explicit about this in your response. Use “I” statements and feeling statement. Take care not to include assumptions or accusations. Choose your words carefully
  • Someone tags another person in material that that person would not want to be associated with
  • Consider responding offline to avoid escalating and making the interaction more public

Prevention is better than cure! When posting content online it is always important to be conscious of other people’s views and feelings. When positing something about a friend or family member consideration is key – if in doubt, ask them.

Let’s watch Jess as she talks about her conflict with Anna about a photo that was published on Facebook.