An Internet debate is much like a regular debate, except not bound by any of the social conventions that we observe offline. People who participate are therefore free to act like douchebags and promote radical beliefs that would otherwise be mocked.
Any topic is fair game for discussion on the Internet, from international economic policy to which fictional Japanese characters would be best at beating up other fictional Japanese characters. However, there are a few major themes that emerge most frequently.
First and foremost is politics. Everyone on the Internet has passionate political opinions, despite the fact that most people who debate politics online can't tell George Washington and Kim Jong-il apart.
"That mad North Korean must be stopped!" - nancypelosiisgay6969
As a result, political debates tend to gravitate towards the fringes of the political spectrum, because nobody is competent enough to explain to the neo-Nazi why he's an idiot and he wouldn't listen to common sense anyway. Moderates are rare on the Internet but crazy people like anarcho-capitalists are everywhere, usually emerging on Digg after being laughed out of the classroom by their first year Political Science professors.
Religion, always a controversial subject, is another common debate topic. These debates tend to take place between fourteen year olds who have just discovered atheism and want to show the world how edgy they are for embracing it and reactionary fifteen year olds who are disgusted by the complete lack of ethics and morals their ignorant juniors are displaying. Traditional philosophical arguments are tossed out in favour of more contemporary religious questions, like "If God exists and is supposedly benevolent how come he won't make it so I can talk to girls without pissing myself and fainting?" and "If the Earth really is billions of years old and not just a few thousand, then how come there are no written records from 4 000 000 000 BC?"
"If Jesus really was our savour why wasn't he cool enough to shop at Hot Topic instead of wearing those ugly robes?" - XxXgodisdeadXxX
Most other debate topics can be merged into a single category of trivial discussions. Music, literature, movies; there is no right or wrong here, merely opinions. However, this will not stop people from being amazed that other people dare to have tastes different from their own. These blasphemous acts of defiance will not be allowed to stand, resulting in some of the saddest displays the Internet has to offer.
"I don't know, I guess Mozart is alright if being a fat ugly queer is your thing." - LiNkInPaRkFaN666
There are two major misconceptions regarding the etiquette of internet debates. While many people are well aware that most social norms are violently subdued as soon as someone gets behind their Internet username, there are still some aspects of online discussions that take people by surprise.
A common assumption is that the more trivial a debate topic is the less passionate the debate will be. So, a debate about Presidential policy may lead to insults flying back and forth, but a discussion over teen literature will be tame and respectful. This is a logical belief. It is also horribly, horribly wrong. The topic of a debate has absolutely no bearing on the tone of it. If, for example, you feel that government run healthcare is a good thing, you will be called a communist; if you believe that The Backstreet Boys are a better band than N*Sync you will be called a communist child molesting faggot. No matter what you believe in at least one guy you encounter online will think you are the worst person to have ever existed.
Someone out there thinks that listening to this album makes you worse than 50 Hitlers.
The second common misconception is about venue. A rule of thumb is as follows: The more appropriate an online forum is for holding a debate, the less likely it will be used to do so. Websites dedicated to intelligent debate wither and die from lack of activity, while the comments section of a YouTube video featuring a puppy and a baby napping together will explode into a no-holds barred free for all about the Iraq War.
Well, personally I feel that the Surge was ineffective at best. What say you, Baron von Snuggles?
So all together it's very easy to remember the etiquette of Internet debating: it doesn't exist. If you think someone is actually trying to be polite in a debate it will inevitiably turn out that you're simply bad at detecting sarcasm. Don't worry about it though, your genius is above them anyway. Hey, have you lost weight?
Many debate tactics are employed online, with varying degrees of success. Luckily, there is a very simple method to tell if a tactic will be effective. First, picture it being used in a face to face debate. Is it effective? If your answer is yes, it will not work online, and vice versa. So fuck all that "logic" and "reasoning" mumbo jumbo; if you can master the most immature and therefore potent tactics discussed below you'll be well on your way to becoming the Socrates of the Internet. If you have no idea who that is you're off to a great start already.
But for the record, that's him on the right.
On the Internet, rational and well thought out statements are scorned in favour of ridiculous hyperboles and personal attacks. Insulting the opposition is the most common tactic, and the one you should employ first. It's best to use racial and sexual orientation slurs, as well as exaggerated political insults. These tend to be combined in nonsensical ways, so try making comments like "Why should I take the opinion of a gay Nazi Jew seriously?" to belittle your opponents. Do this often, in bold font, all capital letters and with the most baffling combinations of taunts and the vast majority of people you debate will quickly quit in frustration, leaving you victorious.
If the stance that you're taking is an unpopular one multiple people may attack your beliefs, lessening the effectiveness of your insults. In this case, consider creating multiple accounts to back yourself up. Let one account make the serious arguments while the other quotes those arguments, replies "Fuck yeah, preach it!" and then call everyone else faggots. The worse things are going, the more fake accounts you'll need. Don't feel silly about it; everyone else is doing it too! Just be careful not to create so many fake names that you forget which ones belong to you and you end up debating yourself for the next three weeks.
If the debate is still going poorly then it's time to act like a supervillain. Make some comment about how everyone has fallen into your elaborate trap, because you've merely been leading everyone along the whole time for your personal amusement, like mere pawns in your diabolical game of Internet checkers. Sure, they'll all know it's a blatant lie, but that doesn't matter; as long as you can convince yourself that you really have been messing with them the whole time you can turn the most embarrassing defeat into a spectacular victory in the confines of your own weird little mind.
"So by letting you rescue the Princess and save the world it is actually I that has won here today."
Finally, when all else fails, it's time to face the cold, hard truth: The people you're debating with are just too simple minded to understand your genius. It's a tragedy, but it is your duty as a member of the intelligentsia to point out this sad fact to the plebeians you're been wasting your time with, then vow to never return because your brilliance is clearly being wasted and you have to go mentally crush some Nobel laureates. They will no doubt be awed by your dramatic exit, but be sure to return every so often to remind them of how awesome you are. If you get called out on this contradiction, try starting a debate to clarify the issue.