How to Win a Social Media Argument

The definitive guide to being one of those smug (or perhaps ***LOUD***) bastards that annoy you so much online …

Disclaimer: A few of the examples in this piece are from memory of particularly ‘interesting social media posts that have struck me over the past month or so. They won’t be exact and I can’t remember who it was anyway so there’s no attempt to have a particular go at anyone!

It’s frustrating isn’t it? You’ve got an idea, a thought, a suggestion perhaps, maybe even an opinion. And you’ve thought it through (actually, that might be your first mistake but let’s leave that for now). You venture into an online discussion and what happens? You get shot down by … yes, by what exactly? Swearing? Threats? Witty (but irrelevant) one-liners? *****AGGRESSIVE LANGUAGE USING CAPITALS AND RANDOM PUNCTUATION – DON’T(!!) ***INSULT*** MY INTELLIGENCE BY …*****? It really doesn’t seem as if they’ve any more knowledge than you on the topic (maybe even not as much) and the flaws in their reasoning are pretty visible but, somehow, they still seem to get the better of you. How does that happen? Are they just more forceful? Wittier perhaps? Better at expressing themselves? More experienced? Is their true genius hidden behind their apparent muddled logic? It’s probably simpler than that: more likely they’re just fundamentally different to you.

So, does that mean, to get anywhere, you have to become like them? Do you really want to? Perhaps not: by and large these people don’t lead rewarding real lives (it’s basically why they’re like this online). But, just in this context, there are some easy pointers to follow that will mostly see you right. You almost have to be a different person on- and off-line. (With any luck you can still keep some friends in real life.) It starts with mental attitude then a small number of simple steps and you can win any argument on social media. But before that, a little bit of context …

The irony is that a social media argument really should work the way an ideal face-to-face conversation would. Someone listens while the other speaks, digests what’s been said, then responds. At that point, the roles reverse and it continues from there. Of course, in practice, it never works like that in real life but you’d think that the enforced half-duplex nature of text-based exchange really would enforce that structure on its participants. Why doesn’t it?

Well because, just as in real life, no-one ever really listens to anyone else. However, the great advantage of social media is that, because no-one’s actually watching you not listen, you can get away with that not-listening thing on a vastly different scale. And that’s the key to all of this. So, are you ready? We’ll begin with the method in overview before expanding to the detail …

In outline, the process is this: for any discussion/argument, if anyone has a different opinion to you then:

0. Mental attitude; you know you’re right. Not only that but …

  1. You know exactly why your opponent has a different opinion. Not only that but …
  2. You can express your opponent’s argument for them. Then you can …
  3. Demonstrate the flaws in this argument. So hey presto …
  4. You’ve won the argument!

Simples!

To look at the method in a bit more detail we’ll expand each of these steps but you can probably see already why both mental rigidity and a working deafness are so critical. You’ve got to get yourself in the right frame of mind …

STEP 0

The essential key here is the notion of a ‘bigger picture’ or ‘complete picture’. You can see this bigger picture but no-one else can because no-one else is as clever as you.  If anyone else happens to agree with you then that’s great, and you may be able to use what they say as positive reinforcement, but ultimately it’s probably just luck on their part – because they’re not as clever as you and it’s unlikely that they’ve been gifted with your perfect vision. Of course, anyone who disagrees with you, by simple axiomatics, can’t see the bigger picture – not just because they disagree with you but because they couldn’t anyway – because they’re not as clever as you.

Sorry to hammer this point but it’s critical to what follows. You must eliminate all self-doubt. Otherwise you may be lost before you begin …

“But, if I can see a bigger picture than other people, might not there be someone who can see a bigger picture than me?”

STOP RIGHT THERE! We’ll have none of that nonsense. This isn’t an exercise in open-mindedness: it’s about winning arguments. Anyway, you are open-minded; it’s everyone else that isn’t. It has to be that way remember because only you can see the bigger picture and the rest aren’t as clever. In a sense, you don’t need to be open-minded because you’re just right and being right and seeing the complete picture makes you open-minded anyway … because  … because you are. It doesn’t matter exactly how you get your head to this point but you’ve got to get here. You’re cleverer than anyone else. You can see the complete picture – no-one else can. You’re right: anyone who disagrees with you is wrong.

Etc., etc., until you’re convinced.

This is Step 0 as listed in the process above. Now, in many ways, that’s all you need – and in fact, for your own satisfaction, it probably is. Someone’s wrong because they disagree with you: end of story.

Unfortunately, the Internet’s got all sophisticated recently and other people will use arguments against you, perhaps even logic. And from their positions of relative ignorance, they will appear to make sense [to them]. It can be tiresome to have to deal with these arguments. Worse, because you’re so far above their intellectual plane, and with such clearer, wider vision, it may not be obvious how to do it in terms that these pathetic simpletons will understand. There may even be others who fall into the trap of thinking these people are right, even though they can’t be (because they disagree with you), or think their arguments are better than yours, even though they’re not (because you’re seeing the bigger picture). Countering all of this fully is frankly beneath you, isn’t it? Fortunately, there’s a better way, beginning with Step 1 …

STEP 1

Remember (Step 0) that you’re cleverer than everyone else, only you can see the complete picture, so you’re right. This is essential. If you’re not sure you’ve got this yet, go back and redo Step 0 until you have. (If it helps, remember this might only be your online persona we’re talking about here.)

Because you’re now going to do something crucial that only you can do … You’re going to decide exactly why the person who disagrees with you holds that (obviously wrong) opinion. Do not ask them. Do not take any notice of any arguments they may have already put forward – or subsequently. You don’t need to. This is all distraction and likely to complicate matters. Because you (only you) hold the enlightened position you do, you are able to divine this information for yourself. You know exactly why they think the way they do. It’s a bit like God looking condescendingly down on His people with all their daft ideas, hopes, dreams, etc. He knows it’s all nonsense but He’s tolerant. You can be too if you play it right. (If you want to be tolerant, that is, or you can just be an aggressive dick, of course.) You just need to understand that you can see into people’s minds: they’re like a tiny, restricted subset of your own omnivision.

“Sara doesn’t want to go to France because she doesn’t like cheese.”

There may not be any hard evidence for this. It may be that all you know is that Sara doesn’t want to go to France. But it’s legitimate for you to decide this is why because you have this God-like perception.

Now, if this seems (even a bit) unreasonable, and you were warned, you may not be ready yet. You may not have completely ‘got’ Step 0. If that’s the case – if there are still any doubts, then go back and read all of this again. Repeat as required. If necessary, recite before bedtime. It may even take a day or two but, when you wake up one morning and your online pre-eminence is the first thing your consciousness throws at you, even before needing coffee, nicotine or a trip to the loo, you’re ready.

So whether you’re here on the first pass, or after several iterations, it doesn’t matter: you’re here now. You can read people’s minds: you know everything they think and, in particular, you know exactly why they hold the opinions they hold. Remember, your general purpose isn’t to listen and consider; it’s to decide and judge. Your particular task here isn’t to deal with their arguments; it’s to explain why the one you’ve constructed for them is wrong. And you’re ready for Step 2 …

STEP 2

This is where it starts to get really clever (although the assumption that you’ve absolutely got Step 0 is utterly implicit from here on in).

So, you know why someone holds the opinion they do (because you’ve decided that). That’s pretty handy in itself but the method really comes into its own when you take it a step further and construct their argument for them. Hopefully, by now, this will seem perfectly reasonable. As you (and only you) had the vision to know what they think (and why) in the first place, you really might as well save time and effort (and do them a huge favour) by describing their (naturally flawed) reasoning process too. And, of course, you’re going to do this in your own words. Of course you are! What other sensible way of doing it would there be? Their words, just as their argument, just as their opinion in the first place, are equally irrelevant in all this.

Now the really clever bit here is that, if you want to, you can also add nuances to their argument by a good choice of wording. It doesn’t have to follow logically, it might be daft, they probably wouldn’t even say it themselves, but it doesn’t matter. Because they’re wrong, they’re going to be saying something or other stupid so it might as well be this.

“Sara doesn’t want to go to France because she thinks all there is to eat is cheese.”

Really, what you’re providing here, through your own brilliance, is a shortcut to the truth.  This bit might not be part of an argument they’d offer but, as they’re wrong, whatever they’ve got is going to be wrong too. But theirs might be a bit more complicated to deal with (and to a weaker mind may even appear right). Don’t get distracted by any of that nonsense; you’ve decided on their argument: you choose the words. This is way simpler, and perfectly justified because it gets you to the truth (your view) quicker.

You’re getting the hang of this now, aren’t you? Excellent. On to Step 3 …

STEP 3

And it gets better. By a process of wonderful serendipity, having chosen, constructed and worded someone’s argument for them, it’s almost always the case that you can see the flaws in it! If this isn’t the case then go back to Step 2 and have another think, but it’s rare you’ll need to. Somehow it always seems that you can pick holes in the words you’ve put in someone else’s mouth. It’s almost like (but of course, couldn’t be) that you’d built a dodgy line of reasoning in the first place. (More like, in your position of supreme awareness, all lower opinions – whether they happen to be right or wrong – were equally contemptible and it made no difference which you chose.) Anyway, you can now clearly see that it’s bollocks; at what stage it became bollocks is irrelevant. Go to work on it …

“But there’s other stuff to eat in France: not just cheese”

This is a simple refutation, of course, but this method allows you to go miles further if you want to. Having given them an argument they wouldn’t have used in the first place, you can really take the piss …

“Oh what, so there are no supermarkets in France then? You can’t get bread, or vegetables, or fruit? Moron!”

Or get aggressive (ideally with more capitals and random punctuation) …

“DO NOT ***INSULT MY INTELLIGENCE BY ***SAYING THERE ARE NO SUPERMARKETS IN FRANCE!!!!***. GO AND CHECK BEFORE YOU SAY STUPID STUFF LIKE THAT***!!!”

In fact, yes, having diverted the whole discussion along a spurious path, why not even supply spurious evidence? …

“MY UNCLE WENT TO FRANCE AND HE SAW SUPERMARKETS!!!  …  And check out http://www.google……… THAT’S CLEARLY*** A PHOTO OF A SUPERMARKET IN LYON, ISN’T IT MORON???***”

Basically, it’s yours now to do as you please … you built it: have fun knocking it down!

STEP 4

Yep, simple as that: point out why their argument (yes, the one you supplied them with) is wrong and you’ve won!  [Well, to your own satisfaction, anyway.  Have you convinced anyone else?  Doesn’t matter does it?  We stopped caring about them long ago: this is – and always was – about ego.]

[OK, and there might be another logical technicality here that would concern lesser mortals. Just because you’ve disproved an argument (the one you made) doesn’t mean you’ve proved the opposite of the opinion. A valid point might be supported by a crap argument. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate the opinion, just the argument. “We know the sun is hot because Nigel Farage is always on TV” is a crap argument (or is it? Discuss) but the sun is still hot. There may well be a better argument that would support the point more strongly but that needn’t concern you. You shouldn’t be bothering with this level of detail really: you knew you were right anyway so what does it matter how you got there?]

And there you have it. Get Step 0 under your belt and Steps 1 to 4 fall into place.

So, to summarise even further, with your own perfection taken as read, to win any online argument:

A. Decide why someone holds a different view to you B. Construct their argument for them C. Tear this argument apart

Simple, but it works! If you’ve the right mentality, you can win any online (and in fact many offline) arguments this way.

So, are you itching to go online and have a go? Are you ready? Want to be sure you’re ready? OK, try these simple tests to see how good you are …

Can you ignore (in the example above) Sara saying something irrelevant like, “I’ve been to France before; it was nice (specially the food) but I’d like to try somewhere new”?

Can you generally brush off any objections along the lines of “That’s not what I think”, “That’s not what I said” or “Yes, but that’s nothing to do with what I was saying”?

Can you manage to say something like the following with absolutely no sense of irony? “Some normally highly intelligent people have got this one wrong.” [Because they disagree with me]

Can you do this now? How does it feel? Can you feel the power of certainty pulsing through every vein? Yes? Excellent! Go to it …

Go and be ‘social’ on social media!

About Vic Grout

Chair, Clwyd South Labour Party; Professor of Computing Futures, Wrexham Glyndwr University View all posts by Vic Grout

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