Saturday, December 10, 2011


Last month sometime, I shared an article to Facebook, a new development in the abortion-breast cancer link debate. The source site is on the reactionary end of the political spectrum, but it was only reporting the news, not performing the study. I posted the article and forgot about it (not being very fb-savvy).

The next thing I know, it is a few days later and I get a text (from fb) alerting me of a message from a classmate whose name I didn't recognize at first. She was very apologetic about something:
I just wanted you to know I wasn't even remotely trying to attack you when I posted on your abortion-breast cancer link. After Emily started ranting, I just thought you should know I wasn't enraged by your article, just skeptical as I am of a lot of things! I'm going to look into the subject more and come to my own conclusions on it, but I just wanted to thank you for posting. I hope you're well and weren't alarmed by my comment!
Attack me? Alarmed? I realized this must be related to the article I shared, and I returned to the post to find 22 comments, including a debate between an old TAC classmate and a medical school classmate in another town (a "fb-friend," not even an acquaintance). I know the TAC classmate well, since we were in section together as sophomores. He usually needed things reworded, he brought up issues not quite to the point, he displayed poor etiquette, etc.

In the comments to my post he was at it again, debating with my pro-choice classmate. His first comment was 385 words, a cardinal sin on a microblogging site and a faux-pas in the new evangelization anyway. Without waiting for a response he posted six links in a row, asking his opponent to read all of them. He got frustrated when she responded with a two-sentence argument (not having read the links), and answered in another chunky paragraph of 172.

The discussion became more equal as the medical student began to answer in longer bursts. The posts back and forth took on what I thought was a pedagogical, competitive tone, like two contestants instead of two people in discussion. I looked at the times of the comments: it was rushed. In fact, the TACer typed, "Perhaps you just answered it [a question he asked], I haven't read your latest response as you just posted it as I'm writing ths.[his latest argument, sic]"

Long posts, all caps, responses out of order, rebuttals to multiple points fragmenting the debate.... I became terrified, feeling like I'd created a monster without realizing it. I quickly commented, hoping to resolve the mess. I guess I judged hastily and those two were happy with their discussion! The TACer posted some hours later, disliking my comment:
[Medicalmatins], I'm not sure what you are referring to. As far as I can tell, the conversation has not gotten out of hand (whatever you mean by this). It was a civil discussion albeit, the participants on both sides feel strongly about their respective positions. There were no ad hominem attacks on either side. The discussion was going fine. Moreover, although you claim that [the medical student] doesn't want to "debate", [she] has not made that clear to me. Perhaps you should let [the medical student] speak for herself on this one. On the contrary, [she] seemed to be very much willing to discuss the issues and I've enjoyed the exchange.
I almost posted “I wince reading it. You two are missing each other by miles at every point. Too much vitriol, too much rhetoric, too little openness....” Instead, I just removed the share and all the comments.

Here's where the story gets dramatic (where I get confused and think all the characters are high school girls). The TACer posts to his wall:
It's sad when someone deletes a fruitful discussion from their wall because they are hyper-sensitive and over-react to innocuous comments that are made. Oh well, what can you do?
Friends of his that I did not know were already commenting:
Must have been a Calvinist... depraved beyond all hope. ;)
if an individual was THAT concerned with either what I or they wrote....more power to them, lol, let them feel that morsel of control in this huge world if that's what they need ;-]
Ouch. I private messaged the TACer:
[Name], forgive me. My intentions were good; I feel as though I don't deserve the hurt your causing.
Response the same day:
No offense, but you know what they say about the road to hell and good intentions. I think you were imprudent to chastise me in public about something that was merely your perception. You have to realize that you have a habit of being hyper-sensitive when a discussion doesn't meet your uber high standards of decorum. You have to consider that there can still be a good discussion even if it does not meet your ideal standards. Moreover, you need to consider that perhaps what you take to be impolite or uncivil conversation is merely what you are reading into the discussion. It is an online discussion so it is easy to misconstrue passionate conversation as uncivilized or undignified. As far as any hurt I'm causing, I know of none.
Ouch ouch ouch (and interesting comment about chastisement in public).... My final message:
I'll keep your advice in mind. Thank you.
He's right in a few things: I added tones of voice to the discussion (inevitable in electronic media); perhaps I made mistakes in some of those. And I am sensitive to decorum. But decorum is vital in discussions. Nothing gets done without it.

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