In Defense of Starting Fights in Instagram Comments

If You Don’t Educate People, Who Will?

Peter Stanton
8 min readJan 28, 2024

I was a pre-teen and teenager in the days of Myspace and the early days of Facebook, so I remember when criticism of social media platforms was pretty limited. We had no idea what the future would hold.

Now, of course, we all know better.

Anti-social media opinions are a-dime-a-dozen, and everyone has their theories about how these internet platforms have been leading to social decline—whether it’s destroying civil discourse, creating close-minded political bubbles, spreading disinformation, or skewing people’s very self-images and identities.

I have no intention of trying to refute any of these claims. I, too, can agree that social media has had a variety of harmful effects on people and our society and culture as a whole over the past two decades. However, I also think it’s impossible to put the social media genie back in the bottle, and we need to spend more time thinking about how social media can and should be used productively and positively.

As I mentioned, “civil discourse” is one of the ideas that gets brought up frequently when people discuss harmful effects of social media. It does seem easier for many people to say horrible things to someone from behind a computer or phone—and especially an anonymous username—than they might say to that person’s face.

Rarely do I ever have angry arguments with people I am talking to in a shared physical space. But boy oh boy, have I gotten into more angry-sounding arguments with people online than I could ever count.

However, yet again, I think it’s most constructive to focus on how we can take the present reality—that people are inevitably going to argue with each other on the internet—and deal with it as positively as we can.

In that spirit, then, I have to say:

I think there are legitimate reasons why you should start fights in Instagram comments.

Namely, my reasons are these: If misinformation is spread on the internet and no one calls it misinformation, people will be misinformed. If ignorant people feel comfortable and secure in their ignorance, and no one ever challenges their ideas, they are bound to stay ignorant. And, if you have the knowledge to call out misinformation and the willpower to challenge ignorance, that seems like the right thing to do—even if it starts a fight.

It was January 2023, and I was spending a fair amount of time on the Instagram “explore” tab, scrolling through posts, as you do. The Instagram algorithm had figured out that I like history and maps, so it showed me the following post:

a map posted by the account “_geography_fact_” simply titled “North America (1830)”

If you know me, or you’ve read my previous articles about Alaska Day or the history of the U.S. Army presence in Alaska from 1867–1877, you should know that this kind of map, framed with this kind of wording, disgusts me. Presenting these claimed imperial borders that erase Indigenous peoples as if they are historical fact is, at the very least, extremely ignorant and misleading. At worst, it is insidious, racist propaganda.

I looked through the comments on the post to see if there was any criticism of the map. There wasn’t. At that point, I felt like I needed to leave a comment on the post.

If you don’t understand why this map would disgust me or why it needs to be criticized, I hope my comment below will explain things for you:

My initial comment: “I just need to say, since no one else has comment this already—this map is complete and utter Indigenous erasure. In 1830, there were huge areas of North America where no white person had ever set foot—let alone truly established control over the Indigenous resides of those lands. To uncritically color in those Indigenous lands as belong to colonial states is to give in to imperial fantasies. This map is fake imperialist history.”

Remember, this was a post that was fed to me by the Instagram algorithm, and it was shown to many thousands of other people as well. As of now, one year later, the post has nearly 29,000 likes. Depending on the ratio of people who looked at the map and liked it to people who looked at the map and did not like it, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of people who saw this map on Instagram, as well as others who may still see it in the future.

In that context, I had to ask myself the following multi-part question:

If I see a social media post that is…

  1. Ignorant and spreads misinformation, and if
  2. I have the expertise and the energy to refute this ignorance, and if
  3. No one else has already done this…

Shouldn’t I take the time to call out the misinformation, even if it starts a fight?

My answer was yes. I posted my comment.

And yes, it did start some fights.

Today, my original comment has 267 likes and a reply chain of 77 replies. Unfortunately, that’s less than 1% of the likes the map received, and my comment is not shown near the top of the post, because Instagram sorts comments chronologically and there were many comments that came before and after mine.

However, with that number of likes and replies, my comment is the most “engaged with” on the post by far. No other comment comes close.

So, what do those 77 replies look like? As you can imagine, most of them are not pretty. By calling out the map as Indigenous erasure, highlighting continuing Indigenous ownership over much of North America in 1830, and calling the map “fake imperialist history,” I quickly received notifcations of all sorts of hateful replies to my comment, filled with ignorant and racist ideas about Indigenous people and their history. At one point, someone even got so angry that they sent me a direct message that attacked me and spewed racism against Natives.

I figure if this is what I can expect as a (mostly) mild-mannered white man who (mostly) makes pretty straightforward statements about Indigenous history, I can only imagine the hate that Native people face when they openly share their opinions and try to refute ignorance and misinformation on social media.

In light of some of the responses, however, I felt like I could engage with the commenters and provide them with more explanation, information, and education. Here is how I engaged in those arguments and discussions, striving to be as constructive and fact-focused as I could manage to be:

My comment: “There are many, many examples of Indigenous nations that were fully independent and had very limited (if any) contact with European or American empires or settler states in 1830, or who clearly maintained their sovereignty without any nearby settlers or colonial interests holding power over them. To take just a few more well-known nations, the Lakota had pretty limited contact with white traders in 1830, their power was growing, and they certainly had not submitted to be part of anyone else’s empire. The Comanche in 1830 had a lot more contact with settlers, but that was because they were trading, raiding, and keeping surrounding settlements in fear of them. The Comanche were in clear control of their lands and around the height of their power. In the Great Basin, hardly a single white person had ever set foot in that region, and the empires were still guessing at the geography there. The Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone there were fully independent, and it’s ridiculous to say their lands were already part of Mexico or the USA in 1830. Those were only theoretical imperial claims — nothing close to historical reality.”

Note that I was focused purely on the facts, the historical reality that the political entities portrayed on the map (Russia, British North America, the United States, etc.) did not own or control all the lands in North America in 1830, and that Indigenous nations not shown on the map controlled much of that land instead.

Even when focusing solely on these historical facts, many of the replies to me involved defensive, emotional reactions that minimized the importance of Indigenous nations and their histories, or spouted justifications for European empires and settler states to conquer Indigenous lands.

In response to a few commenters who I took to be young men who might be susceptible to learning something new from an argument or discussion with me, I took this talk justifying conquest and tried to refocus it—again—on the question of historical reality. I also tried to keep things simple:

My simple follow-up comment: “Veni. Vidi. Vici. As I’ve explained, this map colors in lands as ‘Mexico,’ the ‘USA,’ and ‘British North America’ that no Mexican, American, or British subject had ever come to, seen, or conquered in 1830. If you still think it is possible that those states ‘owned’ land that they literally had not explored and could not exert any sort of control over, I don’t know what else to tell you. Non veni. Non vidi. Non vici.”

Granted, you might critique my comment as coming across as flippant or condescending—use of Latin and all—but I was feeling pretty aghast at all the hateful, racist ignorance that was being thrown my way at that moment, so this was about as “civil” as I could be at the time. I also figured that in dealing with young men who seemed to have an interest in history—and a complete lack of awareness of Indigenous history in North America—referring to ancient Rome might not be a bad idea.

There were multiple threads going on at this point, and plenty of opportunities to engage in arguments with people spewing varying levels of hate and ignorance. However, I felt like I had laid out the facts and made my argument just about the best I could, and so I limited myself to one final hail-Mary comment for all the haters:

My final comment on the thread: “I might suggest that some of the people crying in my replies go watch ‘The Revenant’ (2015). (I can suggest books to read, too, but I don’t think some of you guys could manage that.) ‘The Revenant’ illustrates pretty vividly how in the early 19th century, Americans clearly did not control or hold sovereignty over much of the land the US supposedly bought in the Louisiana Purchase. Those lands were still owned and controlled by Indigenous peoples, people who held power over the Americans who entered their lands. Some of you are pretty confused and disconnected from reality here: I’m not complaining about something I wish was true. I’m describing what was actually the case for people in the past: Native peoples still held power over much of North America in 1830. Everyone alive 200 years ago knew that. No one pretended US law was applicable or that they could expect the protection of the US government in the upper reaches of the Missouri basin, or so many other places. These are just the facts, and the don’t care about your feelings that you want to color in millions of square miles of land with simple imperial colors. Go find a coloring book and some crayons if you want simplicity, but you won’t find it in real history.

I acknowledge there are some parts of this final comment of mine that may come across as mean. That’s exactly why the title of this article is “In Defense of Starting Fights in Instagram Comments,” not “In Defense of Starting Polite Discussions.” The reality is, some people (especially young men with ignorant ideas about history) will come to the internet already ready to fight.

As a former young man who had (some) ignorant ideas—and a current middle-aged man who probably still has more—I think internet fights may sometimes work as a way to get through to people. In this final comment, I was trying to end the fight that I had started.

The bottom line is this: If I had seen this map on Instagram but didn’t write any comments criticizing it, hundreds of people would not have seen the historical facts laid out as thoroughly as I could explain them. That would include people who were already suspicious of the map seeing their suspicions confirmed, as well as people who never would have considered or didn’t agree with my arguments.

Out of those people who didn’t agree with me, many likely dismissed my comments and moved on, with no serious education or growth being possible. For others who spent some more time reading and thinking about what I said—people who might have tried to fact-check me, and yes, the people who started fighting me—I do believe that some of them might have learned something. At the very least, even if they refused to acknowledge a single word I wrote, they know now that there are people who vehemently dispute their (mis)understanding of history.

Of course, I am not intending to become a full-time “keyboard warrior” continuously starting fights on the internet. I don’t think I’ve had any other internet fight this dramatic in the past twelve months—although I also don’t think I’ve seen any other historical map on Instagram this offensive and wrong.

I hope my experiences might serve as an example of how a few strong statements and determined arguments could have the potential to make a small but significant impact, even—or especially—if those statements could also spark backlash.

Maybe most internet fights are bad, and maybe we’re worse off as a society that we fight each other on the internet. But, given that we live in a world with ignorance, misinformation, and misunderstanding, fighting might sometimes be the only way to try to shake people out of their stupidity.

What do you think? Feel free to start a fight in the comments if you disagree strongly enough and want to educate me.



Peter Stanton

I’m an Alaskan history teacher in Ketchikan writing a book on the Tlingit 19th century. I also write regularly about language, reading, travel, and politics.