6 Golden Rules For Arguing With Jerks Online
At 32, I've lived through the entirety of the internet. These ears have heard the foul screech of dial-up, these eyes anguished over the blue infinity of Pegasus Mail. I've traversed the censor bots of AOL chat, escaped the ruins of MySpace and LiveJournal, and witnessed the might of Trogdor. The Treeloot has been plundered by my hand, and I've come out victorious and with monkey.
And after 20 years, I now make my living doing nothing but arguing petty bullshit online. My body may be flabby, but my fingers are calloused and strong, like a bundle of Mickey Rourkes. And having no children of my own (as evidenced by everything I just said), my only legacy is to pass on some key tips for surviving this great digital expanse in a time when everyone has a beef. Here are six golden rules. Cherish them.
Don't Make A Rebuttal Way Longer Than The Thing You're Rebutting
We -- as in the various people who write for Cracked.com -- are not perfect. We're opinionated to a fault, and like 75 percent of us have a severe calcium deficiency. A lot of what you read here are columns designed specifically to voice a particular opinion that you may or may not agree with. For this reason, we've received many rebuttals -- often in the form of video responses, and often with running times like this:
Yes, that last one would be a 57-minute rebuttal to a Cracked video that was 10 minutes long. And regardless of whether it makes a reasonable point, I can flat-out assure you that no one at Cracked sat through it to find out. Not because we're too proud or arrogant (at least, not in this specific case), but rather ... who the hell has time for that? And again, these videos might be 100-percent spot on, for all I know. Their points might be enough to make me drop my computer, quit this job, and walk into the sea like a banished spirit. But I won't, because there are so many better things I'd rather do with a free hour than watch someone tell me I'm terrible. That's basically every doctor visit.
We're busy people, us humans. So if you have something to say, you best make it as quick as possible. If you're mad at a dumb tweet or offensive video, don't create a 10,000-word dissertation about it. Even if you're in the right, it's damn near impossible to get anyone to read it. And the worst-case scenario is that you come off as an obsessed lunatic devoting too much time and effort about something so trivial. Speaking of exactly that ...
How about a Sarkeesian segue?
For those unaware, a few years back a lady named Anita Sarkeesian put out a handful of 10-minute videos criticizing the way video games portray women. Personally, I found some of her points to be valid while others to be silly -- but at the end of the day, it was an important topic and the videos weren't hurting anyone by existing. Others didn't see it that way, and so a documentary was created to apparently blow open the wide conspiracy surrounding these videos. It was called "The Sarkeesian Effect," and was -- I shit you not -- two hours and 36 minutes long.
That's seven episodes of Rick And Morty. Seven!
That's money and months of manpower devoted to something that no reasonable human would ever sit through ... Which is probably why it premiered to whopping nine people and was unknown to the majority of those reading this. Because unless your last name is Plinkett and you're talking about some popular piece of culture, there's no fucking way you can ask for three hours of someone else's life to rant about anything. I don't care how right you are; it's the equivalent of performing six hours of slam poetry outside a Denny's because the coffee was cold.
Avoid Refereeing A Conversation With "Fallacies"
If you've spent more than a second online, you've probably heard the term "fallacy." Rooted in philosophy, a fallacy describes a common misconception or mistake a person might make in an argument. For example, the "ad hominem" fallacy is when someone rebuts a point by attacking the character or motives of the person making it. A "false equivalence" fallacy is when you unfairly compare two things to make them seem logically equal ... like what Liam Hemsworth's agent does every single day.
There are entire websites devoted to listing fallacies. And while there's nothing wrong with knowing them, somewhere down the line, the internet started yelling them out like wizard spells. This seems most common on Reddit, where users will often use "fallacies" as an all-powerful reference guide for every situation, encouraging people to call out and even cite them during arguments.
To be super clear: You absolutely should never bring up "fallacies" when debating someone. And you especially should never link them to some kind of shortcut page defining their logical error. Aside from how immediately enraging that is, this is the equivalent of whipping out a copy of The Art Of Seduction while talking to a girl at the bar. It's like screaming "Activate trap door!" while performing a magic trick.
When someone online tells me I'm using a "strawman fallacy" or a "circular argument," I instantly assume that person is:
1) Extremely new at arguing
The whole point of fallacies is to have extra tools to internally reference when debating someone. Instead of saying "Aha! I've detected a fallacy!" you're supposed to be keeping that shit to yourself until you can leverage your words against theirs. Simply screaming "fallacy" doesn't give you an edge any more than screaming "spin kick" makes you a better fighter. There's even a fallacy specifically about this. It's called the "fallacy fallacy," and it points out that pointing out fallacies as an end-all argument is in itself a fallacy, which I guess makes my linking to it a fallacy fallacy fallacy ... which gives you an idea of what a clown hole this all is. And speaking of repetitive garbage ...
When Things Get Heated, Avoid Buzzword Insults
Hey conservatives, want to make liberals stop taking you seriously? Call them a "cuck" or "libtard" or "snowflake." Heeeey liberals, want to make conservatives stop taking you seriously? Call them a "basement dweller" or a "fascist" or a "deplorable." Call the president "Cheeto-face" or "Drumpf." It's a surefire way to make your opponent not only unaffected by your words, but also think of you as being another cultist reading off a tired script of go-to phrases and insults.
By all means, if your goal is to make yourself feel better by blowing a rage wad all over some anonymous rando, then go bananas. But don't for a second think your trite little exclamation is making a dent in the conversation. By adapting the lingo of the mob, you're far more likely to make people further affirm their own beliefs.
But even worse than that, using a put-down popularized by one specific cluster of people doesn't only pigeonhole the person you're trying to insult; it also pigeonholes you. If someone was trying to convince me of some injustice and in their argument used the words "shill" or "sheeple," my stupid human brain would automatically start associating them with the hogwash 9/11 truther movement. Similarly, if I read the word "cuck," I automatically doubt the validity of every word after.
Being unique in the way you speak goes a long way to convince someone you're not another, well, sheeple. And if you've put independent thought into your personal convictions, don't you want to convey it as independently and while avoiding the same tired insults? Because I'm not saying you can't insult other people ... just that you need to be more creative when you do. Don't call the next angry liberal an "SJW." Instead, go with "offense connoisseur" or "turtleneck colon-dweller." Not all conservatives have to be "rednecks" or "Nazis" either. You can go with "reverse-Lincoln" or "Hitler's street team" instead. The only limit here is your imagination and empathy.
Don't Balance An Argument On Personal Anecdotes
Hey internet, remember this gem from a while back?
This Vox thinkpiece went briefly viral, and is about a college professor afraid to speak his mind, lest he be cast out by the all-seeing "PC police," which it seems haunt campuses like the shrouded society of Skull and Bones.
Almost immediately, this click-baity piece was met with equally click-baity responses from people attacking conservatives for the same thing:
If you don't remember these headlines, don't feel bad, because they're all terrible and not worthy of remembrance. And the reason for this has nothing to do with the point being made, but rather how they are making it. Specifically, they are taking a broad problem and blaming it for their personal situation, making their entire point dependent on the reader's view of their character. In other words, a professor saying that a group of students "terrifies" him because of PC culture can be instantly brushed off with "Well, maybe you're just not a very good professor."
It doesn't matter how right or wrong you are; taking a personal problem and trying to turn it into a societal observation comes off like a deflection. It's like blaming "diversity" for a failed job interview that you showed up to in jean shorts. I'm not saying you can't talk about it, but you absolutely shouldn't start with it. Because if you do, shit like this will happen:
"Yelp girl" wrote an open letter to her CEO saying that she can't afford to live with her current salary. Instead of having a conversation about wages, the internet responded by trolling through her social media accounts to find any and all evidence of her being careless with money. It didn't matter if she had a good point or not, because everyone was busy arguing over whether or not she was a "spoiled millennial."
The vastness of the internet has given everyone the ability to "keep score" of every news event that affirms their bias. When Michael Brown was shot, a large chunk of the internet wasted days debating whether he stole cigars, as if that detail would make or break the Black Lives Matter movement. Whenever a spree shooting occurs, the first thing people want to know is what color the killer was. Every time an anti-gay politician gets outed, or a Democrat says something stupid about guns, or a Muslim or Christian does something terrible in the name of religion, people tally it like a fucked-up game of Rummy. But if you truly want to influence people on the internet, you shouldn't even have a reason to keep score in the first place ...
Don't Get Distracted Trying To Make The "Other Side" Look Bad
I like Star Trek more than Star Wars. If asked to justify that, I might answer by pointing out that Trek is 1) more optimistic in how it views societal progress (for example, enemies like Klingons and Ferengi become allies in later series), and 2) treats the "science" part of science fiction with respect, and the "fiction" part with grandstanding disregard.
Hey, notice how I didn't justify my view by bashing Star Wars? Instead I talked about what Trek had to offer, and not how terrible Lucas is or how R2-D2 looks like a rusty buttplug. The reason I did this has nothing to do with respecting Star Wars fans (although they are nice people), but rather with how spending all your breath talking about the opposition is the same as letting it dominate the discussion. Here's another, somewhat topical example:
Hillary Clinton's very first campaign ad for the general election was about Trump. During the entirely of the election, all we heard about (both negatively and positively) was "Get a load of this Trump guy." Even one of her campaign slogans had Trump's name in it.
Meanwhile, I don't think the average American had any idea what her specific policies where. Instead of talking about fixing manufacturing or coal jobs, she flooded working-class states with ads about all the terrible things Trump said and did. And so Clinton helped make the entire damn election all about Trump.
The internet falls into this trap all the damn time. You know why "Men's Rights Activists" are often seen as a joke? Because they won't shut the fuck up about how terrible feminists are. Sure, they could focus on the draft, or how men make up 93 percent of workplace fatalities, or highlight the many ways our culture panders to "manliness" and frowns upon male "weakness." And I don't doubt that many of them do talk about that. But go on any men's rights forum and you're far more likely to be greeted with a post about how terrible feminists are.
I'm not saying there aren't feminists out there also pulling the same bullshit, but rather that their overall message tends to be way more focused on self-empowerment as opposed to bashing the opposite gender. Despite the stereotypes, or rather because of them, they've had decades to realize that it's not about keeping score of who is more "wronged." And if MRAs focused more on actually talking about their rights, I super-guarantee that feminists would listen. I know this because it used to happen all the time.
It comes down to this: If your advocacy is almost entirely based on insulting another group, it's not really advocacy, and you might border on being a hate group. Even if you use words like "pride" or "rights" in your name. And like that, I've managed to disparage Hillary Clinton, Star Wars fans, and Men's Rights Activists in the same article. That's gotta be worth some kind of prize.
Don't. Argue. On. Twitter.
Look, imagine that we live in a neon future in which all the kids get around on light-up rollerblades and every dispute is solved through arena grapples called The Hammerhead Trials. What happens is each opponent would have their hands tied behind their backs and a steel hammer strapped to their heads. And before you ask, yes, they get to choose what kind of hammer. I'm talking anything. Ball-peen, upholstery, even a fucking bushing hammer -- no one gives a fuck. The trial ends when one of them manages to beat the other to death with the head-attached hammer. Also, in this future emotions are used as currency or something. I'm still workshopping this.
And this is exactly what's wrong with Twitter. It's the social media equivalent of a no-handed hammer fight. No matter how important, every argument looks ridiculous due to the arbitrary character limit. It's objectively the worst place to express complex ideas, and yet it's currently the primary medium for political discourse. We all realize how insane that is, right?
Look, I'm not saying I've never argued with someone on Twitter, or that I'm going to stop anytime soon. But like chewing your nails or getting drunk at the airport, a bad habit looks bad no matter how good it feels. Look what happens when I click on a random Trump tweet and scroll down to people's comments:
That's five people -- presumably adults -- "discussing" the current healthcare situation. Literally none of them come off as intelligent or even coherent, and ultimately their tweets will serve no greater purpose beyond adding to the hostile static of the internet. If I could delete them with a single keystroke, the slight breeze my of my finger would be 100x more influential than the content I was eliminating. These tweets are a cat fart in a hurricane, and yet, for some reason, they exist. Why? Is it so those "Liberal Tears Mug" scam-bots can make an easy buck?
I didn't cherry-pick an especially dumb sample size; this is the case for like 99.99 percent of Twitter arguments. And if you haven't already noticed, a lot of the terrible techniques I've mentioned today are easily cultivated by Twitter. Buzzwords, simplistic hate, using "fallacies" ... these all fit easily into 140 stupid characters.
Ultimately, the question you have to ask yourself is this: "Am I trying to truly make an intelligent point, or just blowing off steam?". If the answer is the latter, then by all means go hog-wild on Twitter. Have a blast! Use repetitive buzzword phrases. Peddle hate based on single anecdotes. Be a fucking monster. But don't come crying to me when you accidentally wind up president some day.
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