Conflict online | When to talk and when to walk

Liz at PoemFish asks, “Does it do any good to fight? Does HOW we fight matter? I’m wondering this because two items online this morning have me pulling on my boxing gloves.”


I was involved in one of those online kerfuffles. I am host of a Google Plus group called Open Adoption Advocates.  Our About statement reads We believe that openness in adoption can bring benefits to all involved, and we’ll do what we can to evolve the closed-adoption mindset. This is a place to learn about the effects of both openness and closed-ness in adoption. This is not a place to seek an adoption match.

I am the gatekeeper for membership, and I have never not approved anyone who has requested to join. I did, however, add the last sentence to the About blurb a few months ago when a couple’s first few posts seemed like they were soliciting a match — and that took care of that. Besides adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents, in our group we also have waiting couples, a magazine, a homestudy provider and a few agencies, as well as people for whom I’m not sure what their interest is.

I don’t do a lot of vetting. If anyone wants to listen in on our conversations about ethics in adoption, about building and sustaining child-centered adoptions, about listening to varied viewpoints within the adoption constellation, about healing the split caused by adoption, I’m all for that.

I’m not for trolling. But I’m careful to label the behavior and not the entity.

Last week an adoption facilitator (not an agency) asked to join. Upon being accepted, it made its first post that included a link to its website. Members checked it out. Laura found that this facilitator provides gold star travel and housing services to “birth mothers,” relocating them to chi-chi areas around Los Angeles for the duration of their pregnancies. I suggested to the facilitator that perhaps it should take a look at our About statement, and that “expectant mom” was the more accurate term prior to placement. I also pointed out that much of their counseling about open adoption (which was lame and one-sided) sounds more like placating fearful pre-adopting parents than helping clients build a child-centered extended family. Other members followed with their own comments, some with jaws on the floor at the facilitator’s audacity and erroneousness. Anger began seeping into the discussion — a discussion the facilitator was not acknowledging.

I called for a moment for everyone to step back and breathe, tagging the facilitator so it would come back and read.

Whether [Facilitator] came here to sell us or learn from us, we can be more welcoming. [Facilitator] may very well discover that this is not a group that fits it well and may decide to leave and spend its energy elsewhere (because no one here is buying).

On the other hand,it is possible that [Facilitator] has not considered some of the points we are raising and is willing to listen and learn, but only if we ourselves model openness.

[Facilitator], you have a place here if you are open to learning about a different and more functional view of adoption than the one depicted by your website, which has some obvious triggers.

Why did I not just ban this facilitator?


Choose: win or changeBecause I would be a fraud if I extended openness only when it is easy and convenient to do so.

Because it’s one thing to preach to one’s choir. It’s another to encourage someone whose views are antithetical to your own to take a new look at their old viewpoint. Are we able to use the principles of openness to deal with people who disagree with us? I think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr and the ways they changed the wrongs of the world — by getting the oppressors to see an old thing in a new way.

Because attacking and defending leads to more attacking and defending and it rarely leads to real, self-directed change. If the problem is ignorance, then the solution is to educate. You can’t educate someone who leaves your group, someone you’ve shamed in the process (which, by the way, didn’t happen in our group). They leave and feel more dug into their position. And instead of having a small chance to turn someone around, you make them even more of what they were in the first place.

Because I was thinking about the situation in terms of shame. Once we begin trying to effect change with shame, we have lost. At the same time this situation was erupting, there was another online fuss highlighted by Jezebel in which one blogger (whom I’m not linking to) used shame as a strategy against another blogger to combat, yes, shaming.

Because just as in a marriage you must sometimes choose between being right and being happy, in conflict you must sometimes choose between winning the argument and being the change.


Back to the original kerfuffle (such a whimsical term for something so unpleasant).

Without acknowledging any of the fallout from its first post, two days later the facilitator made a new post in our group. This time a statement that extolled how well it supported “birth mothers” and an image with the caption: “One Year Guarantee | Adopting Parents.”

Members were not amused. Nor was I. The facilitator had proven not reachable, not teachable. It wanted only one-way communication in which it tried to sell, but it was clear no one would be buying.

The boundary I’d set earlier had been crossed, and removing the facilitator from the group was now an option. One that I executed without further hesitation.

I am removing you from this group as we are obviously at cross-purposes and you are clearly a talker and not a listener.
I left an open door:
Should you have a change of heart about how you treat expectant mothers (what you call “birth mothers”) and so many other things, please contact me directly.


Liz closes her post with these questions, which I now ask you: “[Is there a] way that I can hold onto my passion for justice while also being effective, engaging without fighting…How do you advocate online? What works?”

22 thoughts on “Conflict online | When to talk and when to walk”

  1. Great post with lots to chew on! It sounds like you handled the situation with the facilitator really well. I appreciate how you try to be the change vs. always just preaching to the choir, as you say. Well done.

  2. I like that you gave her a chance, and when she didn’t rise to the occasion and participate in a two-way discussion (talking AND listening AND thinking), you also set your foot down and didn’t allow her to continue “talking at” instead of “talking with.”

    I think you’re right — the only way we create change is to stick around and have the conversation.

    The only place I don’t think it’s appropriate is when one group determines another is ignorant and goes to the other group, trying to change them. A very different situation than when that ignorance is discovered when the ignorant person reaches out directly to the one in the know. Since… well… sometimes (not always) ignorance is in the eye of the beholder. To me there’s a huge difference between seeking out the ignorant and educating them when they come to you. And this woman came to you. And should have been able to listen and learn.

  3. your point of being open and fair is excellent. It is up to us, as bloggers, community leaders and comments to follow through with our commitment. I’ve never had ‘nasty’ or grossly inappropriate comments on my blogs (yet) but I hope I would allow for dissent. However, the kind of thing that happened in the situation you refer to was something I would have squelched quickly. How? I’m not sure.
    Your post is excellent–a guideline for bloggers and a learning tool for those who need to pay a little more attention!

  4. It seems that you were more than fair. You held back the wrath of your community, you gave the person a chance to respond, and they ignored you and continued to use your community for their own purposes. Job well done!

  5. I agree…a lot to chew on. I respect the way you dealt with it, just not sure I agree with it. And is it really shaming or coddling bad behavior for fear of offending? They crossed the line with the first post. They may have reached an expectant mom…a vulnerable, young woman. Mission accomplished for them and how sad for the vulnerable. I applaud you for walking a fine line and totally get where you’re coming from. I guess there are no easy answers. Coming from the other side of the coin, protecting the vulnerable is a first priority for me. I feel like a Mama bear. Maybe after having lived my own journey for a few more years, I won’t feel so hypersensitive and can live more in the gray. Hugs!

  6. Winning or being the change. I love that.
    I think that talking is fine as long as it is respectful. You were right to do what you did and spoke to said person in a non confrontational way. Isn’t that the best way to get resolve.
    Sometimes fights aren’t worth it if the other isn’t listening and vice versa.
    This is a great post.

  7. I’ve told you this before but I need to say it again you are truly a role model. I don’t think you could have handled this situation any better than you did.

    Well done 🙂

  8. This is an excellent post and you handled the situation beautifully.
    I’ve seen the dogpiles happen too easily when one person forgets that their conversation is public, or that their online friends are not face to face friends who can see their body language, hear their voice inflection, or perceive their purpose. It is painful when it happens to you, and painful to see it happen in a community. Cyber – comrades become cyberopponents in a blink of an eye.

  9. I love this post. So many interesting points to consider. I just recently found myself getting “hot under the collar” after reading a post (and the comments on said post) that stated that all women have the “choice” to stay at home (even if that choice is a horrible one that they’d never actually want to take). The whole post rubbed me the wrong way. The tone, the message and especially most of the comments. I made a few points in the comment section and then I stepped back. Later the original author wrote another post basically stating that she would always believe as she had previously stated and I thought about saying something more but I chose not to. If someone has stated they will never change their mind, is there any point in pursuing dialogue?

    I have to admit it felt frustrating to me and I spent a few days wondering how I should channel that frustration. I finally decided that if I really wanted to say something I should do so in my own space and hope people who felt differently might hear me. I’m still deciding if I want to continue the dialogue or if I even can in a productive way.

    The truth is I don’t know the answers to Poemfish’s questions but I absolutely respect your stance. They say democrats are very open minded, until someone thinks differently than they do. I try to remember that myself when I find myself reacting viscerally to someone’s opinion or point of view. If we preach openness we must but so all situations (that remain respectful) and not just in the ones we agree with.

  10. This gave me a lot to think about. Too often, when one confront conflicting ideas, the gut reaction is to go into defense mode and defend to the bitter end. Yet you’re absolutely right that this approach rarely results in changing of viewpoints. Usually that only comes from situations where someone feels safe to explore and express differing opinions without being attacked, learning as they go.

    But I also think this example brings up the importance of defining boundaries. In this case, the offending party clearly wasn’t interested in conversation, but instead in marketing their viewpoint and “product.” And for those toxic individuals, there’s really no getting through. Hence we need to also establish what’s the limit for a situation.

    I think you handled all of this beautifully, Lori.

  11. Great post and wonderful guidelines on how to be a good moderator/blogger and advocate. I also moderate several groups and try to give readers/contributors every chance to follow the given guidelines. But the guidelines are there for a reason, and once that line has been crossed, we have no choice except to exclude that person from the group. You were absolutely correct in adding that should they decide to abide by the guidelines again, they would be welcome back in. Even the Dalai Lama would agree with you! Good for you, Lori.

  12. In some ways it’s still the wild wild west out there, isn’t it? I admire the way you handled this situation. Not everyone would have given the facilitator a second chance, but it was the right thing to do. I hope I would exercise the same judgment if I were in your position.

  13. Your server ate my fabulous, well-reasoned comment. 🙁

    And now I can’t remember it.

    Rest assured, it was brilliant.

  14. Sounds like you handled it with love, kindness, and tact. Social media is supposed to be about interaction, not imply blasting ads 24/7. They wanted to advertise in that group, not interact within it.

  15. Unlike in real life, you can’t just get up and leave the room when you are embroiled in a one-sided argument if you are responsible for the content of a blog post or a group discussion. What I have learned from my recent experience as an editor and a blogger is that there are people who will use any and all opportunities to bring traffic or attention to themselves, and on a more curious note, people who will continue a conversation about a post that has been removed, just to cause trouble. As always, I’m fascinated and appalled by the behavior some people engage in when using the internet as a shield behind which they can hide to be mean, cruel and accusatory.

  16. I’m impressed by how well you handled that. Then I’m frequently impressed by how well you handle things.

  17. Such great points here, Lori.

    I have to admit that sometimes I get a comment that I want to delete (and I understand bloggers who do delete comments or don’t allow them at all) but in the end, what we write about (ALI) is so poorly understood and I think open, two-way communication is an opportunity for education, just like you said. So I leave them up unless someone is just not listening.

  18. As in life, it seems to me that you treated this with dignity and grace. It just plain sucks when people want to talk and not listen and use amazing groups like yours merely to sell. I’m glad you banned them. Personally, I’ve yet to have a heated discussion online but as my son grows older, I’ve been warned by other autism mamas that it will happen. Not something I’m looking forward to. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, Lori. And ditto to St. Elsewhere.

  19. This plays right into the post I’ve been mulling over, and will likely write today, about forgiveness. Do you forgive someone who continues to hurt people, or to be purposefully misinformed? How do you educate people who don’t want to be educated? Do you let them speak even when their words are harmful?

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