It is likely that we have all had this experience during the local COVID-19 outbreak: Someone in an online chat group that we use for communicating with family, friends or schoolmates turns out to be a “political fanatic” who will disregard what everyone else thinks, and frequently sends pointed and groundless messages criticizing a certain politician and their supporters, and will not rest until everyone has agreed with their point of view.
How does one deal with that kind of person? Here are some suggestions, but please note that they are not applicable to online work groups.
The first suggestion is that one should consider the consequences before joining any group. An online chat group is a convenient channel for people to stay in contact and discuss shared issues. Saying a happy “good morning” at the start of each day to let everyone know that you are still around, or congratulating other members on their birthdays can help bring a feeling of belonging.
However, if the cost is to withstand a daily barrage of conspiracy theories and brainless political posts, perhaps you should re-evaluate whether it is worth staying in the group.
It would be better not to join an online chat group where there us such a political fanatic, and if one makes the mistake of entering such a group, just leave the group right away. If it is necessary to contact a relative or a friend, it is better to just communicate one on one, or start a small temporary group that can be closed after the conversation has ended. The world will not forget you just because you leave a chat group.
The second suggestion is to communicate with the political fanatic in private, or to keep your distance from the person. Even if there is such a person in a group, it might not be possible for other members to quit the group. Under such circumstances, some will choose to reply to every post by the fanatic, and in the end the two will go down together, as other members — while not expressly saying so — will see both members as political fanatics and keep both at a distance. There is a simple reason for that: Life is hard enough as it is. Who wants to see you bickering with each other for the sake of your own satisfaction?
The best approach is to let the person know in private that you do not want to constantly see posts that hurt others’ feelings in a chat group intended for social purposes.
Handling the matter in this way will allow the person to save face by means of an emotional appeal. If that does not convince the person, it means that they do not give priority to the feelings of other group members. If the situation becomes unbearable, the best thing is to offer a public explanation, leave the group and perhaps start another group without that person. Remaining in the group and continuing to quarrel with a political fanatic is useless.
The final suggestion: Ignore the conspiracy theories and brainless posts of political fanatics. An insensitive person is always insensitive whether in the real world or the cyberworld.
A more socialized response would be to simply ignore the person’s texts so long as doing so will not have negative consequences. This way, you and the other person can avoid embarrassing yourselves. This is not a hypocritical attitude, but rather an expression of tolerance and maturity.
The members in most chat groups are family members and friends. If a political fanatic is unable to elicit a response to their posts, they will be marginalized quickly. The more responses their posts receive, the bigger their platform. They will continue to hurt the feelings of other group members, and you will become mentally exhausted. If it turns out that there is more than one fanatic in a group and they keep reinforcing each other, the best policy is to simply leave the group.
Chang Yueh-han is an assistant professor in Shih Hsin University’s department of journalism.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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