When to Reply on Social Media—and When to Not

“Ask yourself, was that helpful or hurtful?” says Borba. If it was helpful, you can figure out how to respond, but if it was hurtful, you can ignore it.” But what if a relationship is important to you and you decide to communicate with the person? What is the best way to move forward?

“It’s all a matter of how you say it,” suggests Borba. “Shame is not the game. What you are looking for is respectful discourse. There is more than one way to see things, and all sides matter. You don’t have to agree, as long as you are respectful and aren’t negating or guilting the person. Just say to them, ‘That is one way of thinking about it.’” 

Many years ago, a female boss taught me that when someone is attacking you in a meeting, don’t respond or look at them. She told me not to reward the other person with my energy or time. Instead, she said, look at and direct your comments to their boss and say, “I would like to see the backup or the research on that.” I found this advice quite effective and wondered if it could be used in online situations as well. 

“That is a perfect example of redirecting the power,” says Borba. “Most of the people will turn to the boss, depriving your attacker of the power they wanted. You can do the same thing online, for example in a Twitter war, by finding someone influential to defend you.” She points out that bullies are looking for power. So the best response is to diminish that by not responding at all or finding strength in joining with another group that agrees with you. And, according to Borba, very often that person will bring along the people who wanted to support you but were too shy or fearful. 

Laurie Easter had an experience where she needed to step back when a distant relative who learned of her publishing deal with a university press wrote, “Oh, you found somebody who wants to read your dark little stories. Stranger things have happened.” Easter shared what happened on social media, and several people wanted her to punch back, but she took the high road and didn’t respond. “I thought, she’s jealous because she always wanted to be a writer,” Easter said. 

So what makes other people think they have the right to tell you you’re wrong or diss you? “When it’s on social media or not in person, it’s easier for them to do it because you can’t see them,” says Borba. “Saying it face to face is a lot harder, especially when they want to be insulting or are deliberately trying to hurt you.” 

Hinduja recommends focusing on resilience, which means staying calm and shrugging off name-calling, insults, and passive-aggressive behavior. “This way you show that words, likes, or comments will not affect you, and your self-worth is not coming from someone else’s agenda. If people are making you feel uncomfortable, you have every right to mute, block, or report them so they aren’t controlling your online experience.”