Telling people they are wrong online is a never ending, thankless task. Only in the rarest of circumstances does anyone actually thank you or tell you that they have changed their mind. Instead, you usually get called some names and some all caps swearing is flung around for color. Worse, most of the time, this sets you off and you come back like a Jerry Springer guest on amphetamine. A vicious circle and a waste of time that could have been better spent marshaling your armies in Clash of Battle Hammers Of The Fjords or whatever online game.
Let’s be real, most battles between internet intellects are fun for approximately 10 minutes. After that, it’s a rote series of actions and a gnawing sense of impotence. There isn’t a way to win.
The best course of action is to avoid the fight. Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean simpering around and agreeing with people. Keep your firmly held opinions and share them freely, but when someone aggressively comes at you, try the following approaches that are designed to save you time and preserve your sanity.
Accept That Your Opponent May Not Have The Skills That You Do.
If you are academic, well-read, or generally clever, you have learned the nuances of critical thinking and of argumentation. You can use evidence and cite fallacies with the best of them. You could be the Aristotle of the contemporary age. But guess what? You are practically a singularity.
Don’t enter into an online argument. You won’t be greeted with claims, warrants, and backing. You will be met with some suggestions about what you can do with your d**k and a hot take on your mom. It’s not worth it to engage because you will get no satisfaction out of beating a really, really stupid dead horse.
Determine Your Motivation.
You have to figure out if you are killing time, trying to prove a point, or looking to engage in some dirty linguistic brawl. If you are only looking to tell someone that you would kick their ass if you ever met them, I question many things about you. However, you may find some level of glee setting yourself out as troll bait.
But, if you are trying to be the voice of change or educate people, stop arguing online. No one believes anything you say. It doesn’t matter if you have an PhD or a MENSA membership; in fact, writing about those things will make people hate you. If you are a teacher and you use that to add gravitas, people will say they feel sorry for your students. You want to educate the world, write a think piece.
If you need to kill time, read the next section.
Value Your Time.
Keep a list of things that you want to do next to your computer and when you feel baited into clapping back, look at the list and determine if there is something better to do. Your time has a value; honor that and avoid the arguments.
Be Comfortable Without The Last Word.
The winner of an argument is neither the person who speaks loudest, the last one to speak. An online battle will generally continue as long as you keep participating. Be the bigger person. You don’t need to savor every morsel of typing out the last response. Chances are that at that point you are already rehashing earlier comments anyway. Say what you need to say and close the tab. You don’t need to point out every fallacy a person has used or refute their every claim. It’s not going to help anyway.
Keep It Clever.
Literally, the only thing that matters in a public performance — like word vomiting all over a comment section — is how fun it is to read. If you or the other person immediately start punching down, using terrible grammar, spelling things in bizarre ways, constructing sentences in such a way that they can’t be read, or fall into common argument tropes, end the argument.
You aren’t doing anything for each other or the countless other bystanders waiting to see if things get good. If you can’t be witty and smart (and funny), it doesn’t matter how the argument ends because you should walk away ashamed. If you challenge yourself to only argue when you can do so with humor and readability, you will argue a lot less.
Stop Being Smug.
One thing that fans the flames of an internet quarrel is self-righteousness. If you can curb your instinct to pat yourself on the back, fewer people will line up to punch you. It’s wonderful to have a point to make and to post it, but there isn’t any reason to crow about what a clever person it demonstrates you are or to repost it on your social media in a sad attempt to shower yourself in the praise of others. Just stop it with the attitude and people will stop gunning for you.
Obviously, the single best piece of advice is to close the page and do something else. Please, don’t be that loser who sends a reply back over and over to demonstrate how above the conversation you are. You know what people who are above something do? They walk away. Defend yourself once, if you care to, and move it along. Maybe go outside. No one’s going to argue with you there… oh.