How to Comment on Social Media

Some people get stuck with the concept of commenting on social media.

Commenting and writing are really two different things. There are lots of books, articles, presentations and 1-2-3 posts that will tell you how to build a professional presence online. The general idea on that point is to build a body of work that proves to the world you are a credible, trustworthy presence in whatever sphere you claim to operate in.

Yes, commenting is a form of "writing," but the emphasis is much different. After all, comments are a reaction, they are in a sense defensive, whereas the act of putting something out there is proactive, creative, it takes initiative, and it is fundamentally offensive, not in the warlike way but in the sense that you are moving first.

By their very nature--at the risk of repeating myself--comments put you on the defense. So you have to have good reason for saying what you have to say; in a sense your words are an interruption.

We are living in defensive times, anyway. Every word you put out there matters. It establishes who you are; even the slightest opinion can and will be scrutinized; your command of the facts, and more importantly, how to articulate them, portrays you as either a respectable person or a fake, flake or dummy.

Plus, think about who you're talking to. People who care about the world, but also people who are anxious--about economic instability, inexplicable war and aggression, the overwhelming nature of modern life, with its constantly changing technologies, as well as the constant onslaught of more and more laws and regulations and rules. People undereducated in so many ways, including in the capacity to engage in critical thinking. People who have been silenced and censored for so long, the very act of getting online feels revolutionary.

When you really think about it, making a comment to such an unknown audience is risky. No matter how benign your words, somebody out there will no doubt at some point take offense.

You may deserve a challenge or a correction on legitimate grounds. Or, they may get ideological with you. And they will challenge your comment as an example of "fake news." They will say that you don't know what you're talking about, and meet your statement with a hundred links plucked from somewhere else on the Internet. They will attack you personally.

You comment, they comment and suddenly it is an endless and unproductive protracted debate that makes everyone look bad for the simple inability to end it.

From a communication point of view, then, we have to look at the social media comment just like any other form of information transmission. What are the qualities of a comment that make it most effective, and what are the things you should avoid?

Let's break this into some "Dos" and "Dont's," in no particular order:

  • Identify yourself if you can.
  • Say what you have to say without censoring yourself.
  • Express your truly held beliefs.
  • Share facts that can be independently validated, or opinion columns with the caveat that this line of thinking makes sense to you or is a good read (but obviously you are not expected to validate it).
  • Refer people to a source where they can independently assess the quality of the information you're providing.
  • Be polite and respectful, remembering that you are talking to an actual person, not hitting a punching bag and remembering that other people are watching what you say and what you do. Even if you're anonymous, your behavior sets a precedent for others.
  • Hold people accountable for the implications of what they are saying, but recognize common ground first, if you can.
  • Generally, help to further a productive dialogue that gets people closer to the essence of whatever topic is under discussion.
  • Make statements of support for what another person is going through or sharing of an emotional nature.
  • Censor yourself because you are afraid other people won't like you.
  • Behave recklessly. You've heard the term "drunk tweeting?" Don't let that be you.
  • Say things that you know have no basis in fact.
  • Attack people for having a certain opinion.
  • Engage in personal attacks or make offensive statements.
  • Make reckless statements.
  • Take money in exchange for making comments that appear to be un-sponsored. It's one thing to announce yourself, but quite another to lie.
  • Tell people that they have no right to post a certain thing on a certain platform because there are other places that are more appropriate--you are not the "platform police."
Of course, these are comments based on my own experience and common sense. Like always, it's not any kind of official guidance, does not represent a legal opinion, and is really only the beginning of what could and should be a much larger area of study--especially when you consider how much easier it is to throw a few words and a link into the world than to author an original and well-thought-through piece of researched content.

All opinions my own.