In Your Opinion: A Guide to Arguing on the Internet

A cookie to anyone who recognizes the reference being made.

Arguing on the internet is an exercise in futility. No one wants to compromise, no one likes to lose, and admitting you’re wrong goes against one of the key pleasures of the internet: Anonymity. The knowledge that no one knows how you look or sound like is a hugely important factor in deciding what one is capable of saying. You are able to be as cool and confident as you wish you could be in real life, but when someone comes along to shatter that illusion, you can’t help but clutch onto that semblance of power as tightly as you can and this often materializes into what we call an “Internet Argument”. Internet arguments are often started by simple disagreements over petty things like movies or video games, but they are sustained by clashing egos. Eventually, way past the point where the argument should have been logically settled, individuals will continue to hurl progressively longer and longer posts until one person stops due to a mix of boredom and frustration. The “winner” for a lack of a better term, is the person who gets the last post in the argument, but after a certain point it starts to seem like everyone is the loser. The anxiety of checking if your opponent responded, the huge amount of time wasted cycling through repetitive arguments, and the knowledge that you’ll never have peace of mind until you’ve buried the “idiot” that disagrees with you is a situation one definitely should avoid. As a veteran arguer of the internet myself, I have a wealth of knowledge and experience I would like to impart to my dear readers that I’m sure will prove useful to you one day. As far as credentials go, I can tell you that I once spent a month arguing with the same person over two separate threads about whether or not “X anime character would beat X other anime character in a fight”. Eventually it got to the point where we would need to post 3 times in a row because there was a limit of 1000 words for a single post. Needless to say, even though I got the last word in, I did not feel like a winner at all. That’s why it’s important that you pay close attention to my first tip.

1. Don’t get into Internet arguments… or at least pick your battles.

It’s that simple. If you don’t want to worry about arguing on the internet, don’t do it. For most that’s a breeze, but for some particularly argumentative people, that can prove to be impossible; so as a word of advice I’d say to at least pick your battles wisely. Don’t fall for obvious trolls or people that aren’t worth responding to. If a low level, graceless troll comes in to express an obviously controversial opinion in hopes of riling posters up, just ignore it. Most trolls aren’t skilled enough to be able to seem genuine as they defend some of their appalling opinions, so don’t buy them. Trolls are most easily spotted when they put on a veil of child like naivety to conceal their malicious purpose (EX: “Um, why are people of X race always doing X? I don’t get it…”). As for people not worth responding to, you be the judge of that. For me, shameless racists and MRA-types aren’t worth my time. Engaging with people you find absolutely despicable is just not healthy behaviour.

2. Never fight unless – someone else starts!

Coincidentally, my second tip is also the second count off of being a ninja turtle. It’s exactly as it says, don’t try and start arguments on the internet. The reason that’s not a good idea is because starting the argument immediately puts you at a disadvantage. It showed that your opponent already managed to incite an emotional reaction from you before your battle even began, since their opinion compelled you to act. Part of arguing well on the internet is keeping your cool, and if you fail to do that, others will feel the need to join and also fight against you; and at that point you have truly lost. Arguments are a battle of attrition, but if you manage to incite the wrath of the majority then continuing to argue will just make you look like an idiot. It’s as close to a checkmate as you can possibly get on the internet, and it doesn’t happen over facts or hard data, it happens because you lost your temper over nothing.

A common way arguments get started (and something you should never do) is to respond to someone you disagree with using the phrase “In Your Opinion”. This is a horrendous thing to say because it shows that you lack emotional maturity when dealing with opinion’s separate from your own, it’s a redundant statement (whose opinion did you think it was?), and it opens you up for a biting counter-response if the person you’re dealing with is even mildly competent at responding to chumps on the internet; and that’s who you’ll be if you open with a phrase like that: A chump. The only time you should be pointing out something someone said is their opinion is if they explicitly claim it as a fact when it obviously isn’t. Never do it otherwise.

3. Don’t utilize “utilize” when you can use “use”.

Avoid flowery writing when arguing with someone, it just gives the impression that you are trying to impress your audience which puts you in a subservient position right off the bat. It also makes your arguments tedious to read through which will endear readers to the side of your opponent. Lastly, it’s a huge waste of time fretting about words like “flabbergasted” when you can just say surprised. It’s the internet, not your MFA, try hard to seem like you’re not trying hard.

4. Avoid Ad hominem, or pointing them out explicitly.

Obviously, don’t address your opponents with personal insults. Doing so just makes you seem desperate or out of touch with how to socialize with people. It makes you seem defensive and gives an enormous “loser” vibe to whoever is reading. On the flip side, don’t become known as the guy who argues with terms. Logical fallacies are great concepts to understand for arguments, but try not to point them out so much or draw attention to the fact that you are doing so. Sooner or later you’ll become known as the guy who argues with links to descriptions of logical fallacies rather than actual arguments. That isn’t to say you should let people get away with making fallacious arguments. When someone does them, instead of throwing out a link to a website that explains their mistake for you, smoothly insert their error into your argument and let them know what it says about theirs (EX: “I see you’re resorting to insults now that you’ve run out of things to be wrong about”).

5. Swallow your pride.

This works two-fold. If you legitimately lost an argument, or more likely, you’ve lost interest in partaking in one, bow out. Stop responding or at least leave a “this is my last post responding to you since this is going nowhere” notification before you go. It may sting at the time, but you’ll be a lot happier in the long run if you did it. The second way this advice works is that when you have an opponent who stops posting or leaves a “last post” reply. For the love of God, do not goad them into responding to you again with a smug response, just leave a general comment on the argument maybe saying that you’ve “grown bored of it too” and leave it at that. You may feel tempted to try to start things up again because you still have an empty feeling, but its pointless. That empty feeling is just what internet arguments usually lead to, and arguing even more isn’t going to fill that hole, it’ll just make it wider.

So there you have it, 5 arguing tips from a seasoned vet. Hopefully these serve you well in the future (especially that first piece of advice).

“I’m sorry, what’s a ‘girl’s’ bike? Is that like a ‘girl’ doctor? Go back to Saudi Arabia, Hitler!”

-Random internet commenter, 30 Rock

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2 thoughts on “In Your Opinion: A Guide to Arguing on the Internet

  1. Fantastic, never thought I’d see someone put this kind of thing into words. I’ve been on the internet since I was about 11 or so, and have also been in my fair share of arguments. You’re totally right: it’s pointless! People don’t want to back down. People aren’t open to persuasion. I once had the pleasure of arguing with one person for dozens of back-and-forth posts. I’ve probably done this multiple times! Complete waste of effort.

    Something that especially rang true was your mention of the anxiety over seeing a new post pop up. I thought I was the only one! That’s the point where the whole “swallow your pride” advice is probably the most useful. Just abandon ship! No one’s probably going to care!

    Thanks for typing this up.

    Liked by 1 person

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