#4. Who Changed the Subject
We're not robots, our minds wander, and debates that were going to be about one thing slowly drift off into being about another. You're talking about whether the media blows election stories out of proportion or not, someone cites the birth certificate brouhaha as an example of them doing just that, and someone else says, "Wait, that wasn't overblown." Next thing you know, you are arguing with a guy about where the president was actually born. (Spoiler: Mars.)
He's not trying to destroy America, he's trying to destroy Earth.
Someone else says, "For goodness' sake, people, this was a discussion about media reporting, why are we talking about the president's birth certificate?" and then the fingers start pointing. "He was the one who brought it up! I was just answering his question!" "It was a rhetorical question and he went off on this rant, so I had to respond and correct him!" If the discussion has moderators, they will soon threaten to stop the car and turn right around.
Don't make them come back there!
The weird part is that they're both blaming each other for changing the subject, which implies that they both agree that it is a bad thing. Yet they don't want to drop it. "We should really go back to talking about media reporting, but I really have to correct what you said about Hawaii not being a state ..." "I'm sorry you want to keep dragging this out, but if you're going to keep lying about that phony certificate, I have to correct your facts ..."
And the other person is the only one who can put an end to this madness. "Let's please just drop this? If you would stop insisting on talking about the birth certificate, maybe we could get back to the discussion and stop wasting everyone else's time. Enough about the birth certificate. Which is obviously fake, as you can see if you click on this link. OK?"
#3. Freedom of Speech
There comes a time in every argument where a person needs to be told to shut up. On the Internet, this is quite often the catalyst for a stirring protest about how the person's free speech rights are being violated. As far as I've learned from my time on the Internet, First Amendment rights are violated whenever any of the following happen:
- A person is told to shut up by a moderator or administrator.
- A person is told to shut up by an ordinary community member.
- A person is told their ideas are stupid.
I'm not sure how any of these things violate an amendment limiting the powers of government to curb free speech, considering that the government is completely uninvolved here, but I can't imagine so many people would complain about this if it wasn't true. So I guess there is some invisible ink in the Constitution about it being illegal to say mean things to a person.
I guess they added it after the Burr-Hamilton duel?
However, a lot of people don't think so. They think that a person complaining about their rights in this situation is a little crybaby with a sense of entitlement and a poor grade in their civics class. It really is very uncharitable of them to think that way, but they do, so a spirited argument often ensues where they try to explain concepts of reading comprehension and constitutional law to the person in question, whose sense of persecution only grows with each lecture.
It's temptingly fun to explain things to a dumb person, and the dumb person, I mean complainant, isn't going to want to stop defending himself, so pretty soon this argument takes over and leaves the discussion about Transformers in the dust. And I don't know, maybe it is more important to educate people about fundamental rights than to discuss what the AllSpark was supposed to do, but I do know there sure are going to be a lot of sad Transformers fans and critics who will have nowhere to talk about their movie.
#2. The Purpose of the Thread
Once in a blue moon, there is a chat or a forum thread that has a point. Maybe everyone is supposed to name something they are most proud of, or voice actors who appear in the most games, or movies that begin with the letter T. I didn't say they had a worthwhile point, just a point.
Photoshop by Cracked, quiz by Sushi-Cat
Like what your quiz results are!
Sometimes the originator wasn't clear, or they were and some of the people involved are just dumb. Either way, questions about the premise come up, and if they're not settled quickly, and the discussion is full of D&D types, or even worse, people who would be D&D types but never got to play any D&D and get it out of their system, then it turns into Calvin & Hobbes' Calvinball.
"Do movie titles beginning with 'the' count?" they might ask, or "Do expansions and sequels count as separate games?" Questions can start out reasonable but then get taken over by nitpicky rule lawyers who start arguing over whether "the" is officially part of a title, and start pulling out examples of lists where "the" isn't used in alphabetization and opposing examples where it is.
A more conceptual discussion, about "Unpopular Movie Opinions," for example, might get sidetracked into an argument about what counts as "unpopular," where people start arguing about whether Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic should count as a measurement of popularity, or whether it's box office returns, and maybe whether foreign box office counts or just domestic. Then people start arguing that box office only proves that people liked the movie but doesn't prove they had such-and-such an opinion about a plot point or character. Then I don't know what happens, because I stop reading.
I go to those kinds of threads to laugh/gape at people saying they liked Jar Jar Binks or thought Schindler's List was funny or whatever. I don't go there to watch people develop the next Magic: The Gathering.
#1. Emotion Contests
I already mentioned in a previous article that people constantly one-up each other with increasingly violent imagery to show that they are the most outraged at some terrible crime. ("I hope that child molester is hanged!" "I hope he's hanged while being burned!" "I hope he's hanged while being burned and drowned at the same time!")
Violating physical laws makes you the most hardcore.
People don't just do that with outrage, but with almost any emotion, like disappointment. Look at Internet people who have just found out a guaranteed turd like Epic Movie or Jack and Jill is about to come out. Or a movie that is going to "rape" their childhood, like the upcoming Ninja Turtles movie. You'll find post after post about how they have "lost faith in humanity," and if you're unlucky, it will escalate to a pissing contest of despair where they're trying to prove who weeps the most for mankind. How's that for a mixed metaphor.
Dibs on the album name.
Even positive emotions aren't immune. Visit any discussion about the upcoming Batman movie and you're likely to find a series of people describing how rigid their boners are and how voluminous the result of those boners is going to be with increasingly florid language. What is the point of that, other than to scare theater workers?
"I have to clean up what?"
I know this kind of one-upsmanship may not seem like an argument, but when people are actually trying to beat each other, it's basically "I'm the most excited about Batman!" and "No, I AM the most excited about Batman!" and "NO, I AM, YOU SON OF A BITCH!" which sure sounds like an argument to me.
For more from Christina, check out The 11 Most Common (And Sad) Internet Argument Techniques and How to Tell When Criticism is Constructive [Chart].