Keeping your mouth shut in the age of social media



When I first came to the US, I went to high school. One day, two students started to banter with me. I didn’t speak English well enough, so I followed as much as I could. But then we were in class, so I ignored them and continued reading the American History book.

The next day, I came to class, sat at my usual seat, said hi to them. The room went silent. Everyone else in the classroom turned to look at me, then they whispered among themselves.

What I didn’t know was that the day before, the banter had escalated to much more than being playful. Apparently, I had signed up for a fight after school. In fact, after class these guys went to put their affairs in their car, and stood in the parking lot right where we, apparently, had agreed to fight. I am hot-blooded by nature, but I counter it by reading Of Anger by Seneca. I try to remember the futility of anger as much as I can.

But I genuinely did not know I had agreed to a fight. They waited for an hour, then decided I was a coward and left. But I was sitting right next to them now in class. Why weren’t they doing something about it now? How come they never mentioned this again for the rest of the school year?

There are two possibilities to what happened. One is, they won the fight. I was too much of a coward to show up, so they win by default. But it’s hard to celebrate a victory when your opponent did not fight back. Even if my reservation was accidental.

The second possibility is, I won. I showed no fear, no hate, no emotion, and most importantly, I gave no response. They moved on. I defeated them at their game, even if it was accidental. This became a rule for me and I apply it everyday when browsing social media.

When you see a poignant post online designed to make your blood boil, and you will see those, ignore it. It doesn’t matter if it has one like or has been retweeted a million times. Ignore it. When you see a comment designed to start a virtual fight, you don’t have to weigh in. Ignore it.

When someone writes a public message targeting you, don’t respond. They probably spent hours or days crafting that message. You should take the same time or more before you consider responding to it. And not responding is a perfectly valid response.

Giving a quick emotional response is the easy thing to do, but not the right thing. In age of real time public communication, the number one skill of a winner will be the art of keeping your mouth shut.