I'm really feeling it!

Rules of Engagement: How to Argue on the Internet

Rule #1: Don't

Oh how edgy, opening an internet rulebook where the first rule of something is you don't...something something something.


It's true though, don't argue. There are a lot of *ahem* "colorful" sayings about arguing on the internet that I won't bother to repeat here but something that comes to mind is:

Arguing on the internet is the verbal equivalent of knife fighting with bananas. No one wins, and you both end up looking stupid.

Keep in mind your goal in any internet engagement shouldn't be to "win" but to get people talking. Thinking. As soon as you start with the mindset of arguing, you've lost the ability to get people to do that. People don't think about WWF as a discourse in fighting, they see it as entertainment. Likewise, arguments online can be fun to read/watch but they rarely lead to people going home and mulling over what was read/said. Most of the times an argument will only serve to polarize. This is why politics is doomed because very few have taken the "Furby Course to Argumenting" although I have many subscribers to my, "Furby Course in Making Up Words."

Keep in mind that the goal of any disagreement isn't to win over the person you're arguing with, but to help someone else who has never thought about the topic at hand, or may be unsure, create an opinion. For the sake of your sanity just believe that you will not change the mind of the person you are debating with. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule but for the most part it isn't going to happen. If you get that goal out of your head, that there is no winning, it makes the rest of the rules infinitely easier to follow. It's not admitting defeat to say you won't win, it's shifting the goal line to a different location.


Rule #2: Emotion

The second you start getting upset, the debate is over. To engage in discussions, thick skin is required. A quick and dirty tactic people enjoy using online is to attempt to make you angry - to use personal attacks to rile you. It's cliché, but true that anger clouds judgment. It's hard to make a compelling case for something if you're defending/counterattacking personal attacks.


Be prepared to deal with these people. If the attack lends nothing to the actual discussion, ignore it. As tempting as it might be to send your own barbs back, it immediately derails your argument and makes you look just as bad as the troll who attacked you in the first place.

This is a difficult thing to master and it may help that if you're not at peak control of your emotions, not to engage in any arguments. Remember, at the end of the day, what's important is your own mental health and how that is going to affect your real world interactions. It's not fair to the people in your life if you're hostile towards them because of something someone said online.


Rule #3: Your Opener should be concise and contain the crux of your argument without added filler

Some people love to argue. I can think of one person at least that is notorious for arguing here on this ole' website. If you hadn't read that comment thread, I'd suggest skipping the first comment. For all the negativity inherent in that opening statement, the rest of the discussion is done quite well in a calm, civil manner.


An opener should be concise. Don't open with a three page essay on why you think Mario Kart is the devil. State, "I think Mario Kart is the devil."


I tend to think Mario Kart IS the devil.

The opener should contain the crux of your argument but not be too wordy. Next, it's fine to have an opinion, it's not fine to present your opinion as fact.

Disclaimer: This whole article is my opinion on how to argue and not immediately get death threats.


An example of a good opener:

Shinobi doesn't live up to the legacy of Tenchu: Stealth Assassin. After playing Shinobi for 6 hours, I found that Tenchu: Stealth Assassin has better graphics, better stealth mechanics, and more well-rounded combat than Shinobi.



Shinobi SUCKS! It was a graphical mess, the controls blew, and combat was so goddamn boring. Tenchu is so much better that I sometimes touch my eyeballs with butter thinking about it!!!!@!!


Leaving out the gross inaccuracies in the games chosen: You've created a short but sweet snapshot of your opinion while also maintaining that it's your opinion and not fact. Please ignore my infatuation with commas, I, Put, them, everywhere, and don't, really, know how to ,use them, properly.

Also: Cursing. I'm a bit of an old fashioned gent, and think that when you start swearing you sound like a twit and I can't take you seriously. But the times they are a changing so if you want to swear in your opener just realize that you may undermine your message.


Humor can be used to soften any very strong opinions as well as make you seem approachable. If you say, "I'm of the opinion that TLOU was unadulterated trash. But what do I know, I'm a giraffe," you've again stated YOUR opinion, but undercut the harshness of calling it trash by making a joke (We'll assume for the sake of argument that the joke is way more funny than those tired old giraffe tropes)


Rule #4: Stay on topic

The nice thing about a good opener is that you now have a topic. You have a side of the fence you're on. Prepare for everyone and their brother to attempt to derail your argument. Don't let them. Having an argument is a lot like designing a game. Everyone who is not you is going to "beta test" the game by trying to test the boundaries of the world, trying to break your argument in any way possible.


One particularly nasty way people can do this is to attack something that is not the point of your opening statement. For example, if I say, "I really like Blue Cheese, I think it's the best cheese," someone may respond with, "How can you support the milking of cows? It's barbaric!" Your opener stated your cheese preference, the argument is that you're an ass for a social issue.

Stilton really is a God among cheese.

So, how to deal with this? It's sometimes necessary to correct the person that their statement has little to do with what you came here to talk about. You can do this respectfully; "While I agree that cow milking is an issue, my original statement was meant to establish that blue cheese is the pinnacle of all cheesedom. I'd love to talk about this at another time, or I have X way to contact me outside of this thread."


Something like that. If they're insistent, ignore them. They'll only dilute your message.

Never engage anyone who doesn't have a point. If someone says, "You suck, you like cheese! LOLOLOLOL" just ignore them.


If you start to debate the semantics of debate, you've derailed your argument. I see this a lot actually:

Person A: ARRGGGHHh your strawman argument doesn't work!

Person B: Well you just committed logical fallacy Mephistopheles!

It's boring to read, you come across as an intellectual twit, and it's meta-debate. You're debating the rules of the argument instead of going after the message. Just, leave this out. If you can't articulate your argument in words and ideas that a 4th grader can understand, odds are good you're going to lose a lot of your target audience.


Rule #5: Admit you're wrong

One of the most powerful tools at your disposal is to concede a point. You'll do more to win the hearts and minds of the people to your side if you can admit that something you've said was either factually incorrect, or not taken into account in your opener and following statements.


For example, if your stance is, "Religion. Booo!" and someone says, "Well Pope Alexander is an awesome guy who did X, Y, and Z completely selflessly!"


You can concede, "You're right. Alex is a great guy who has done a lot of good in this world. I hadn't thought about that aspect. There certainly are good aspects of religion." You can counter with something else at that point, but acknowledging that the other person has a point helps to keep the debate running smoothly and makes sure that everyone is working to maintain a respectful atmosphere.


Which brings me to the final rule for now.

Rule #6: Be Respectful

Things that are OK:

  • Disagreeing

Things that are most decidedly NOT OK:

  • Death threats
  • Personal attacks
  • Physical attacks
  • Retaliation of any kind
  • Wishing cancer on your opponent's family members
  • etc

It's OK to debate or discuss online. It's fun and keeps everything lively. But things cease being fun when stuff like that happens.


Just remember the golden rule:

No, not that one!

There we go.

There we have it! Don't agree with my rules? Think anything should be added/removed? Well let's get into an internet brawl in the comments below!

Share This Story