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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

3 Reasons I Do Not Engage in Twitter Debates

By Peter DeWitt — June 09, 2019 4 min read
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“You don’t have to attend every argument to which you are invited.” Anonymous

Like a cheetah on an African safari, they are ready to pounce. They lie there waiting for someone to Tweet out, what they believe, is an unjust thing to say. I sometimes envision them sitting behind their computer in their dry-cleaned debate-club uniform just waiting to create their own invitation into the conversation.

Other times it’s much more subtle. We wake up in the morning to check our Twitter or Facebook feeds, and they have placed, what looks like, an innocent question waiting for you to answer. “I wonder what your thoughts are on this?” is how they pose it, but you can smell out the fact that you are being set up. Something about the question just seems different.

Some of these social-media debaters have cute and innocent profile pics. As soon as you realize their question isn’t so innocent, you are on the defensive and you instantly seem to stand for everything they don’t. What these situations offer us is an invitation to engage. The only issue is that the people who are actively seeking our engagement do not want to come to a common understanding. Their whole intention is to prove that they are right, every single time. What makes this harder is that it’s all out in the open on a public format, and it’s not as easy to tell them this is an A and B conversation and they need to C themselves out of it ...

I know what you’re thinking, Twitter is too much of an echo chamber where people just agree with each other. Some of that is true, but this is something very different. What I’m referring to is when people want to go on the attack. They are not the voiceless looking for a voice. They just do not like what they believe you stand for and they want to take you down.

Have you experienced those people on social media?

I’ve Learned
There was a time when I used to engage in some of these debates because I was worried I was being portrayed incorrectly. I remember in one instance I was going back and forth with someone. It was beginning to become a marathon, and neither one of us was going to give up. After all, I’m the youngest of five children, I can go on forever and sneak in a “I’m telling Mom,” every once in a while. And then a friend sent me a private message that said, “STOP. You look crazy right now and you can’t win.

I stopped.

Now, I don’t engage at all with those who want to fight or argue. Perhaps it’s due to meditation and realizing I do not need the negative energy. Other times it’s because I am getting too old for dealing with the silliness of someone who wakes up in the morning angry or wants to name call. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not adverse to engaging with someone who seems to want a conversation in a respectful way. Recently a guy in England wrote a response blog to a blog I had written on instructional leadership. I read his blog, posted a comment on it, and we had a really respectful back and forth. When reflecting on that situation, he had a conversation starter and not a debate starter.

3 Reasons I Don’t Engage in Debates on Social Media
I use Twitter to engage with friends, ask questions that I need answered for research or out of interest, Tweet blogs or videos that I have created, and retweet others who I admire. For me, Twitter is about sharing resources. I have certainly found a lot of resources and have been inspired by others on the social-media format. I do not get on Twitter to engage in battles with people ... anymore.

There are three reasons why I do not get into debates on Twitter. So, if you’re looking to get into one with me, please feel free to read this blog over and over again to get an understanding of why I won’t debate with you. Those three reasons I don’t debate are:

They’re rarely about common understanding—Debates on social media are rarely about finding common ground, and I always prefer to get into situations where we can learn from one another and move on with a better understanding. Many people trying to debate us are really looking to win. That’s never a good beginning to a beautiful friendship.

They make you look really crazy to onlookers—When we are in the battle, we feel like we are making tactical moves and Tweeting or posting really impressively smart comments. In our heads, we feel like J.K Rowling with her stunning comebacks. In reality, we look crazy, and it’s just not worth it.

I’m not good at them—I’m the first to admit I’m a reflective guy. I’m not a debate-club graduate, because I need time (and lots of it) to gather my thoughts, look at the research, and process my answers. Debates on Twitter rarely encourage that type of thinking. I’d much prefer to have someone post a comment on the blog that I can respond to.

In the End
Twitter and Facebook give people a voice. It brings them together. We have seen numerous examples of groups that were being suppressed come together and rise up. I love seeing that happen because it gives voice to a group that used to feel voiceless.

Other times these social-media platforms give voice to people who really just comb through their feeds looking to debate and prove others wrong. Sometimes it’s due to what they think you stand for, and other times it’s because they have some high horse they are on and want to dissect your words.

Feel free to use social media in the way that you would like, but when people try to engage you in a debate on Twitter, take a step back, breath, and decide whether it’s worth your time and energy. I rarely find that it’s worth mine these days.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press. 2016), School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press. 2017), and Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.