Social media has offered us a lot of leeway in terms of how we express ourselves. From the mundane to thoughtful threads and enthusiastic words of support – we’ve been given platforms to not just voice whatever is on our mind, but also to combat uglier issues that really need calling out on.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that learning to be more vocal online has broadened my outlook on the way we communicate with people online and offline.
It’s also opened my eyes to problematic behaviour (mine as well as other people) and has helped me to listen with more empathy to other people’s experiences.
Of course the problem with online culture is that it can become quite indiscriminate in its vitriol. Online shaming has become an inherent part of society that it’s something we often gleefully partake in without second thought.
There are definitely moments that more than warrant some backlash – particularly when it comes to trolls who attack, malign and go out of their way to smear another person’s character for no apparent reason beyond entitlement that is often steeped in sexism, racism and rampant misogyny.
There is a clear divide in terms of politics and belief systems, both of which are often used to trample on already marginalised and vulnerable groups.
READ MORE: Have we become obsessed with a culture of online shaming?
But those aren’t instances I’m referring to right now. And perhaps that’s another topic best left for another day. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we deal with problematic behaviour.
Being online, it often makes it so much easier to call out someone for their conduct because a) we don’t know them and b) we can get away with things we normally wouldn’t offline without being held accountable.
But it’s a lot harder when dealing with family and friends who engage in toxic behaviour that can range between being racist, sexist, homophobic, abusive, etc.
What do you do when confronted with a relative or friend who says something you cannot ignore? What if they’ve always had a pattern of awful behaviour that you’re only beginning to notice now?
And most importantly, if you do decide to confront them, are you prepared for your relationship to change or end?
READ MORE: Is it insensitive to your new partner to keep the photos you have with your ex on social media?
I asked a few people on social media what their experiences have been – the responses were quite varied:
Zakiyah says she doesn’t hesitate to say something even if it does cause strife:
Tallulah says that her experience went horribly but she couldn’t let it slide:
Jamie* has a problematic person in her life that wreaked havoc on her marriage:
*Not her real name.
Keabetswe says she stopped interacting with a family member who constantly fat shamed her.
Nombulelo struggles with her own family, but says she will keep calling them out
Juanita has ended friendships because of intolerance and discrimination:
I have ended friendships because of Racism and Transphobia.— ??Jua van Zyl?? (@JuavanZyl) May 23, 2018
Melanie didn’t hesitate to let her in-laws know what she thought about racism:
I told my brother in law that the k word is unacceptable in my house and the next time he uses it he can leave. I understand that my FIL was pretty angry at me but I noticed they at least attempted to hide the bigotry from me going forward.— Melanie van Wyk (@melvanwykct) May 23, 2018
Amber has cut family out of her life because of her values
I have cut off many problematic "friends" and family out of my life. More recently, my cousin who is a Trump supporter. It hurt more from her because he is against everything that I am and who my fiancee is and our lives could have started by now if it weren't for him. It hurts— ???Amber's Designs Co?????????????? (@ambersdesignsco) May 23, 2018
Hannah hasn’t hesitated to challenge her parents – and says that they’re more careful about what they say now.
Oh, I call out my parents all the time. And then try to explain why what they've said is an issue. I even made by dad read Eusebius McKaiser's "Run Racist Run" to understand privilege.— Hannah (@FullyBookedRev) May 23, 2018
They're definitely more careful with what they say now, but also in a way that shows they're learning. But I have a racist, sexist schmuck of an uncle who I avoid.— Hannah (@FullyBookedRev) May 23, 2018
READ MORE: Not so Pretty In Pink: what it means to love problematic art
So how do you approach such a difficult situation? We’ve got a few tips!
Consider your motivations behind calling out someone
In an article on Lifehacker.com, relationship and family therapist Roger S. Gil says that one of the most important things you need to do is identify the behaviour of the person and consider carefully what it is that you want to address.
Have you come to dislike the person before their behaviour become problematic? And are you motivated by the need to see them do better or are you driven by the need to justify and validate your indignance towards that person’s behaviour?
Yes, problematic people don’t often give other people the benefit of the doubt, which no doubt adds to why their behaviour is so problematic in the first place, but if you want to be able to confront someone with the intent to provide some form of education in a way that’s insightful and meant to help, approaching that person needs to come from a place where you’ve examined your intent first.
WATCH: 10 differences between good friends and toxic friends
Unless the situation absolutely calls for it, avoid confronting in that moment.
There are some things, I believe, should be confronted within the moment. A racist remark, a homophobic slur, body-shaming – basically anything that is blatant in its form of verbal abuse.
In such cases, when other people are on the receiving end and you’re playing witness to it, remaining quiet could say just as much about you as it does about the offender. You have that opportunity to stand up on behalf of someone (should they not feel able to respond), so definitely use it then.
Signs of deliberate attempts to bait someone into an argument by creating a hostile environment is definitely amongst the moments where you put a stop to brewing tensions and calling that nonsense out then and there.
In instances where remarks are subtle and not everyone is aware of anything offensive being said, wait for a moment where you can confront the person – perhaps an hour or two later.
An example: think of something that’s meant as a joke but that could be construed as being offensive – while it’s important to address it, tackling it in that moment could be held off until the crowd thins out and you have a moment alone with the offender.
Unless someone has shown a pattern of repeated offences, assume good faith and don’t use public humiliation as a tit-for-tat tactic
A good rule of thumb for when you want to address someone’s behaviour and the method you’re going about it, is to examine the person’s behaviour.
Is that person a deliberate repeat offender? Is he/she the kind of person that takes absolute pleasure in their behaviour?
According to Bustle, in an article on Calling out vs calling in culture, a good rule of thumb when it comes to intervening and addressing someone’s behaviour, is examining whether or not you want to punish the person and see the person being humiliated for their actions.
While that ties in with motives, it also applies here because going that route could potentially mean that you may just have a bit of a tendency towards schadenfreude instead of wanting to help someone. Is going the public humiliation route going to help the person? And are you using the guise of tough love to act impulsively?
Clichéd as it may be, sometimes you can get more results with a little kindness, instead of public flogging.
Of course, it’s completely different if you’ve gone every single route and the person is still being hurtful and hateful – in those cases a dose of medicine given will be medicine received.
Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.