Internet arguments differ from real arguments in the same ways that porn differs from sex: instead of two people attempting to arrive at a mutually satisfactory outcome, you are attempting to bludgeon your partner into submission, and there are probably far too many people in the same room making things awkward. With that in mind, special techniques are required to deal with these eventualities — because even the most well-meaning and placid person will eventually end up in one of these debates, if they spend enough time on the internet.
These techniques are invariably horrible, cheap, and efficacious. Because in practice no-one has the time to go through your page-long rant and turn it into a five-page long essay about why you are being horrible and cheap, in internet arguments you can get away with murder and ‘win’ because there’s no way anyone’s going to bother to call you out on it.
1. Use Personal Experience and Anecdotes
The best thing about this tactic is that, what with this being the internet, no-one knows for sure whether you’re telling the truth or not. At the very least you can embellish it a little. Did you see a homeless person pissing in the street, or did you see a homeless person killing your mother to steal the drugs that he maliciously sold to her in the first place? Memory can be a tricky thing, sometimes.
Regardless of truth, the important thing is to pick a theme and extrapolate wildly. In the example provided, the argument would be that homeless people are always killing all the mothers for all the drugs, and thus don’t deserve charity/shelter/drugs (delete as appropriate). Increasing the number of anecdotes increases your reliability as a source. Ideally, you could pose as the worst social worker ever and claim that in the course of your line of work you come across this sort of thing all the time. Be sure to be cynical. People love cynicism, no matter how plain wrong it is.
If the anecdotes involve intense personal emotional pain, such that anyone questioning them or even continuing to argue with you becomes an instant douchebag, so much the better.
2. Be Infuriating
People do not think so well when they are angry. Use this to your advantage! Being outright insulting is usually considered a sign that you’re not worth arguing with, but if your opponent is no longer bothering to talk to you, then technically you’ve won. Break out the Cup-a-Soup and the private-time sock, you’ve got some celebratin’ to do!
A more advanced technique is to be snide and obnoxious rather than directly abusive. In this way, your opponent feels compelled to engage with any points you’re making, while still being at a disadvantage due to being mad as hell. Rely heavily on sarcasm, imply insults then back off when confronted, and make as much use of “lol” and smiley faces as possible. “Bro” is the most infuriating word in the English language, as proved by science.
What you are aiming for is an opponent who holds you in contempt, but cannot actually identify a point that you are making to refute. The great thing about this way is that when they inevitably explode with rage and attempt to pounce you with one flist, they will look like the bad guy. Ideally, they’ll also use the “he started it!” defence, making them look like a child into the bargain, regardless of whether you actually did start it or not.
3. Stick to Matters of Opinion
Facts are pesky things. Sometimes they will support your argument, while at other times they will appear to invalidate everything you hold dear. It can be very difficult to get out of an argument you are losing if the facts don’t stack up.
The most important thing on your side is that a person’s fundamental worldview is almost always completely incompatible with another person’s fundamental worldview. The most important issues always come down to matters of principle, which in turn come down to matters of opinion. Keep moving the argument backwards, away from specifics and towards these key words and phrases: free will, soul, spiritual, freedom, utility, virtue, the ‘first’ three Star Wars films, the first three ‘Star Wars‘ films, Star Trek, free market, free-falling, freebasing and free-freeing.
4. Use Fallacies to Invalidate Everything They Say
This makes use of the fact that your opponent is human. They are pissed off, you’re not letting them use any facts to prove their argument one way or the other, and they think you’re full of shit but aren’t quite able to say it, because they’d look like a douchebag. At this point, they’re going to slip up and something that they say will become a fallacy.
Good, simple-to-understand fallacies to invoke are ‘Ad hominem’ — attacking the person instead of the argument — ‘Reification’ — where an abstract concept is treated as though it exists in real life — ‘Appeal to emotion’ — where the argument depends or appears to depend on tugging on your heart-strings — and, of course Godwin’s Law — invoking the Nazis to make someone look bad. A handy list can be found here for easy reference.
The important difference between using these in a real life argument and using them in an online argument is that online, you must always seize fallacies as evidence that the entire opponent’s argument is wrong; not only that, but from their being such untrustworthy, deceitful, cunning individuals, we can deduce that anything else the opposition says is also inherently untrustworthy and partial. Ironically, this is itself a form of ad hominem attack. This is, in a way, the point of internet debating, though. Commit as many fallacies as possible while seizing on every fallacy the other guy makes, and seasoned debaters will be too baffled by your sheer impertinent cheek to make a coherent reply, while others will generally take what you say at face value. In fact, this whole argument style is based on another fallacy — the fallacy fallacy.
Be sure to stretch fallacies to cover things they weren’t intended to. For instance, if someone says that they don’t feel comfortable with compulsory abortions, you accuse them of appealing to emotion. If someone claims they’re not in favour of proportional representation because of the risk posed by extremist parties, such as, for instance, the Nazis, you Godwin the shit out of them.
5. Make Comparisons with Unpopular Political Leaders and Groups
Everyone knows that comparisons with Hitler or the Nazi party are wrong-headed and stupid. Godwin’s Law is now firmly a part of internet culture. That doesn’t mean you can’t invoke fear of socialists, anarchists, Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong-Il, George Bush, Barack Obama — whoever the boogeyman is in your corner of the internet, people will be forced to distance themselves from that group in their response.
It doesn’t matter how stupid the comparison is, the fact that you’ve brought it up means that either they refute it, or they look like they’ve tacitly accepted the comparison. The aim of the game is to make the other guy write as many words which are not about the argument as possible, tiring him and leaving him vulnerable and exposed, far from his young.
You then take his young and crush their throats using your powerful jaw muscles, dragging them off to a nearby tree to devour at your leisure.
I’m not really sure if we’ve learned anything today. But the internet is probably not the best place for debating. The only real way to win these arguments is probably to avoid them all together, and save yourself some unnecessary aggravation.