How [Not] To Argue on the Internet

Somewhere, somebody is being wrong on the Internet. Here’s how (not) to handle it like a pro.
Publish date:
April 4, 2012
satire, meanness, don't this do, flame wars, M

The knife is a visual representation of my acerbic wit.

As someone who has been frequently complimented on my ability to destructively engage with my detractors online -- bathing myself in their blood and leaving their ravaged corpses as a warning to those who might follow in their misguided footsteps, and successfully avoiding learning anything from anyone else ever -- I’m totally an expert on Internet arguing.

Today I’m sharing with you my best DO and DON’T tips for getting into giant online fights with perfect strangers, ideally with the outcome that they will wind up fetal-style in the dark on the bathroom floor with a towel over their head to muffle their anguished sobs, and with a giant self-esteem-devouring black hole in their brain that leaves them feeling enraged and depleted for days even after that silly argument is long over.

Or maybe that will happen to you instead. Whatever. Sound like fun? Let’s get to it!

DO: Be defensive, right away, all of the time, without thinking. So, you made an innocent and harmless joke about Mexicans being lazy and now EVERYONE is all up in your business calling you a racist. But you’re not a racist! You’ve never burned a cross in your life, and you couldn’t stand to wear that much white. Rely only on your current opinion and violently resist any efforts to make you think further about it.

DON’T: Listen to disputative analysis of your assertions thoughtfully and with an open mind, and take a chance on being educated by someone else’s sharing their experiences, especially if they have a perspective on the issue that differs from yours.

DO: Take it personally. Immediately decide that the person disagreeing with you hates you and all that you stand for, including your religion, your family, your pets, your chosen political affiliation, and the whole of your racial and socioeconomic background. Go directly to ad hominem attacks. Make sure to ask how old your objectors are, and whether they live with their parents (basement optional).

DON’T: Think about the criticism only in the context of the conversation in question, and ask straightforward questions if you require further information about the critical person’s perspective.

DO: Take disparagement of intentionally offensive jokes as evidence that your challenger must have been tragically born without a sense of humor, or otherwise had that sense removed at some point via the application of any number of random objects introduced into the anus, the removal of which might invoke the sense to return.

DON’T: Ponder the fact that when someone says to you, “This hurts me,” the response of a caring and decent human ought not to be “Fuck you.”

DO: Presume that anyone who disagrees with you is out to destroy you. Dissenters are not human, my friends, they are foul demons spat from hell’s reeking maw specifically for the purpose of making your life difficult. Obviously you will feel much better about both yourself and the whole situation if you knee-jerkily respond in the most offensive and dismissive manner possible.

DON’T: Trust in people’s good intentions until they decisively prove otherwise, and give even initially rude folks a fair hearing -- they might surprise you by being reasonable and knowledgeable, given half a chance.

DO: Methodically respond to every single comment containing even the slightest bouquet of disapproval, but do so in a manner that makes it clear that you haven’t actually read what they were trying to tell you. Listening to other people with care and purpose is a sign of weakness and means everything you’ve ever said and all that you believe in is now at risk of falling apart, because your convictions are super fragile, am I right?

DON’T: Consider quiet contemplation, and sometimes allowing others to express their opinions -- even ones with which you vehemently disagree -- without turning it into a fight.

DO: Make broad assumptions about other beliefs your opponent may hold. For example, surmise that anyone who supports gay marriage must also be deeply invested in legalizing the fine virtues of incest, beastiality, and pedophilia. Alternatively, eagerly leap to the conclusion that anyone who opposes abortion rights must be a Christian.

DON’T: Realize that every one of us is an individual comprised of a multitude of experiences, opinions, cultures, social interactions, beliefs and backgrounds collected over the course of all the years we’ve been alive, and that sometimes simply disagreeing is OK. Understand that there are as many perspectives on a subject as there are humans on this planet, and that offensive generalizing only shuts down productive discussion on difficult topics, instead of helping us to develop the skills to navigate the inevitable diversity of human experience.

DO: Read the comments.

DON’T: Read the comments.

Got a tip I missed? Lay it on the line in comments. I might even read it.

Lesley hates arguing on Twitter because 140 characters is tragically insufficient to state her opinions with all the words they rightly dese