24 votes

How to not make an ass of yourself in online discussions

29 comments

  1. [8]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [8]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. arp242
        Link Parent
        But a novel is something entirely different than an internet discussion/logical argument. The former is a creative work of art, the latter is a technical tool to get an idea from head A to head B....

        Would you enjoy a novel that employs "less is more"? Probably not, but somehow we got the idea that, on the internet, the bare minimum is always best. That's not always the case.

        But a novel is something entirely different than an internet discussion/logical argument. The former is a creative work of art, the latter is a technical tool to get an idea from head A to head B. Of course, it does need to read well and "flow", and you can employ some amount of creative writing to make a better point, but I see it as a completely different form of writing.

        6 votes
      2. skybrian
        Link Parent
        In the article they talk about extra words as intensifiers, resulting in a more hyperbolic, emotional argument. But they can be used the opposite way. You can say "almost always" instead of...

        In the article they talk about extra words as intensifiers, resulting in a more hyperbolic, emotional argument. But they can be used the opposite way. You can say "almost always" instead of "always," avoiding a dispute over exceptions. (And then, perhaps change it to "usually.")

        It's possible to overdo defensive writing, but aiming for a reasonable tone is usually good advice online, where there is a tendency to take extreme positions for effect.

        4 votes
      3. [6]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. onyxleopard
          Link Parent
          We do see the linguistic phenomenon of reduplication in English (though it’s more common in other languages) used for emphasis. I agree that reduplication of adverbs is typically ineffectual....

          We do see the linguistic phenomenon of reduplication in English (though it’s more common in other languages) used for emphasis. I agree that reduplication of adverbs is typically ineffectual. However, I especially think that contrastive focus reduplication (when used sparingly) in English can be effective:

          1. X is just bad, but Y is bad bad.
          2. The argument for X is stupid, but at least it’s not stupid stupid.
          3. Policy X is capitalist capitalist.
          4 votes
        2. [4]
          viridian
          Link Parent
          As a counter example though, how many times do we see the phrase "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad..." as a semi-ironic, semi serious intensifier? Google says 235 million, including in places...

          As a counter example though, how many times do we see the phrase "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad..." as a semi-ironic, semi serious intensifier? Google says 235 million, including in places such as NPR and CNN.

          1. [3]
            frostycakes
            Link Parent
            That's also a specific reference to the title of a popular children's book from the 70's that I remember reading in kindergarten in the mid 90s, so it has had some staying power in early childhood...

            That's also a specific reference to the title of a popular children's book from the 70's that I remember reading in kindergarten in the mid 90s, so it has had some staying power in early childhood environments here.

            5 votes
            1. [2]
              joplin
              Link Parent
              ... and which became a popular movie in the 2010s, which I'm guessing is what NPR and CNN were reviewing, maybe?

              That's also a specific reference to the title of a popular children's book from the 70's that I remember reading in kindergarten in the mid 90s

              ... and which became a popular movie in the 2010s, which I'm guessing is what NPR and CNN were reviewing, maybe?

              1. viridian
                Link Parent
                Not quite, it's just a popular little phrase in politics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_and_the_Terrible,_Horrible,_No_Good,_Very_Bad_Day#Cultural_references wikipedia's citations:...
                2 votes
  2. [11]
    arp242
    Link
    I think being aware of fallacies is important, but self-described Extremely Rational And Logical people looking with microscopes for alleged "logical fallacies" are the worst. Just blurting "ad...
    • Exemplary

    Be aware of fallacies both you and your opposition are making. Not only to be able to call out fallacies when they use them, but also to avoid making stupid arguments by using them yourself.

    I think being aware of fallacies is important, but self-described Extremely Rational And Logical people looking with microscopes for alleged "logical fallacies" are the worst. Just blurting "ad hominem", "straw man", or "appeal to authority" doesn't advance the debate at all; it's just keyboard warriors trying to win the argument.

    I've been meaning to write a similar list for a while. By far the most important ones are ones of attitude, rather than style:

    • Above all, try to understand the other's position, feelings, and experiences, and explain your own. Avoid trying to convince anyone, much less "win" the argument. The point of a debate should primarily be about understanding, not convincing.

    • Assume good faith. Yes, there's plenty of not-so-good-faith people out there, but if you assume everyone you disagree with is a troll you're never going to have a worthwhile conversation.

    • Don't assume anything about the other person (what they might think, or what they might mean, or whether or not they might also support something else). If you're not sure: just ask.

    As for style:

    • Don't use snark, sarcasm, "fuck", "shit", or try being "funny" or "witty" in general. This is not an "avoid", this is a "just don't at all". It almost never works well. I'm probably one of the snakiest sarcastic foul-mouthed motherfuckers you'll ever meet, but not in (serious) online discussions.

    • As mentioned, don't call out "logical fallacies" by name. Say "I don't think X is an accurate description of their views, I think it's more Y instead" instead of just "strawman!" It tends to put the other person in the defensive and just "strawman" doesn't explain anything, so you need the explainer anyway and if you've got that then "strawman" becomes entirely redundant. You can do this for literally every other fallacy.

    • Don't fall in to the trap of the "fallacy fallacy"; just because someone used a fallacy doesn't mean their entire argument is invalid, and fallacies aren't always that black/white in the first place either.

    • Don't nitpick and stay focused what the actual topic at hand is, try to get the general gist of what they're saing and reply to that. If there's an aside you don't agree with then just let it go. Don't ramble too much about unrelated stuff. This is why I tend to not use quotes so much unless it's really required for clarity, because it tends to lead to a "line by line rebuttal" rather than a thoughtful reply.

    • When in doubt, write at length.

    16 votes
    1. [4]
      rogue_cricket
      Link Parent
      Agreed on most points, and I would just like to add on. I think it ties in well to your very first point. I think the framing of internet discussion as though it should always be some kind of...

      Agreed on most points, and I would just like to add on. I think it ties in well to your very first point.

      I think the framing of internet discussion as though it should always be some kind of regimented debate club is in itself kind of annoying.

      The "debate club" framing says the most logical person wins; the person with the most/clearest/best sources, the person who is the most internally consistent, the person who makes the least logical errors. Surely you should be able to convince everyone to your "side" by simply explaining your logic and showing your facts in a respectful and clear way. But... I mean, out in the wild, that doesn't always work that well, does it? It can rankle and people will push back against it.

      It's easy to dismiss it then as them "losing" the debate because they bow out, or because you've frustrated them. But do they want a debate (with a winner and loser, even!) on the level that you do, at this time and in this context? Maybe in the moment they want or need to be considered as a person - are you doing that, or are you treating them like an opponent, a sounding board for your own ideas, a puzzle or hurdle to overcome, or a means to feed your own ego? Trying to get someone involved in a "formal" discussion can sometimes be intrinsically a disrespectful thing to do to them, regardless of how polite you are.

      This may seem obvious to most people, but I had trouble with it as a teenager and into my early 20s. Learning all those logical fallacy things were maybe not so good for me in the moment.

      14 votes
      1. NaraVara
        Link Parent
        I’m basically over the insistence on sources too. At some point there really is some stuff that you should educate yourself on before forming an opinion on a topic. It’s not someone’s job online...

        I’m basically over the insistence on sources too. At some point there really is some stuff that you should educate yourself on before forming an opinion on a topic. It’s not someone’s job online to be an unpaid teacher to get random, hostile interlocutors a remedial education on a subject.

        One of the most annoying things about online discussions is how frequently they get derailed by people spouting opinions of subjects that they’re just plain ignorant about. A discussion like that isn’t edifying for anyone. People who do know what they’re talking about are spending all their time trying to explain basics to people who aren’t interested in learning.

        8 votes
      2. [2]
        hook
        Link Parent
        That is a really good point. I think a big part of it (and a problem I have with debate clubs) is that we are more and more being pushed into arguing and winning. Sometimes – even oftentimes, I’d...

        It's easy to dismiss it then as them "losing" the debate because they bow out, or because you've frustrated them. But do they want a debate (with a winner and loser, even!) on the level that you do, at this time and in this context? Maybe in the moment they want or need to be considered as a person - are you doing that, or are you treating them like an opponent, a sounding board for your own ideas, a puzzle or hurdle to overcome, or a means to feed your own ego? Trying to get someone involved in a "formal" discussion can sometimes be intrinsically a disrespectful thing to do to them, regardless of how polite you are.

        That is a really good point.

        I think a big part of it (and a problem I have with debate clubs) is that we are more and more being pushed into arguing and winning. Sometimes – even oftentimes, I’d argue! – it’s not as important that you win an argument, but that all involved learn from it.

        Just looking at the etymology of these words helps quite a bit:

        On one hand we have the meanings of debate and discuss, which are very confrontational, even stemming from words like “to beat, to fight” and “to shatter”.

        debate (v.)

        • late 14c., "to quarrel, dispute," also "to combat, fight, make war" (senses now archaic), also "discuss, deliberate upon the pros and cons of," from Old French debatre (13c., Modern French débattre), originally "to fight," from de- "down, completely" (see de-) + batre "to beat," from Latin battuere "beat" (see batter (v.)).

        And he began for to debate; He smote þe porter. ["Robert of Sicily," c. 1500]

        • Transitive sense of "to contend about in argument" is from mid-15c.; that of "argue for or against in public" is from 1520s. Related: Debated; debating.

        debate (n.)

        • early 14c., "a quarrel, dispute, disagreement" (now archaic), from Old French debat, from debatre(see debate (v.)). Sense of "contention by argument" is from late 14c., that of "a formal dispute, a debating contest, interchange of arguments in a somewhat formal manner" is perhaps from early 15c.

        discuss (v.)

        • late 14c., discussen, "to examine, investigate," from Latin discuss-, past participle stem of discutere "to dash to pieces, agitate, strike or shake apart," in Late Latin and Medieval Latin also "to discuss, examine, investigate," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + quatere "to shake" (see quash).
        • Meaning "examine by argument, debate," the usual modern sense, is from mid-15c. (implied in discussing). Sense evolution in Latin appears to have been from "smash apart" to "scatter, disperse," then in post-classical times (via the mental process involved) to "investigate, examine," then to "debate." Related: Discussed.
        While on the other hand we have dialogue and discourse, which stem from words like “crossing, gathering” and “running about, traversing at length”

        dialogue (n.)

        • c. 1200, "literary work consisting of a conversation between two or more persons," from Old French dialoge and directly from Latin dialogus, from Greek dialogos "conversation, dialogue," related to dialogesthai "converse," from dia "across, between" (see dia-) + legein "speak," from PIE root *leg- (1) "to collect, gather," with derivatives meaning "to speak (to 'pick out words')."
        • Sense extended by c. 1400 to "a conversation between two or more persons." The mistaken belief that it can mean only "conversation between two persons" is from confusion of dia- and di- (1); the error goes back to at least 1532, when trialogue was coined needlessly for "a conversation between three persons." A word that has been used for "conversation between two persons" and cannot mean otherwise is the hybrid duologue (1864).

        dialogue (v.)

        • "to discourse together," c. 1600, from dialogue (n.). Related: Dialogued; dialoguing.

        discourse (n.)

        • late 14c., "process of understanding, reasoning, thought," from French discours, from Latin discursus "a running about," in Late Latin "conversation," in Medieval Latin "reasoning," noun use of past participle of discurrere "to run about, run to and fro, hasten," in Late Latin "to go over a subject, speak at length of, discourse of," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + currere "to run" (from PIE root *kers- "to run").
        • Meaning "a running over a subject in speech, communication of thought in words" is from 1550s; sense of "discussion or treatment of a subject in formal speech or writing," is from 1580s.
          Origin and meaning of discourse

        discourse (v.)

        • "hold discourse, communicate thoughts or ideas, especially in a formal manner," 1570s, from discourse (n.). Sense of "speak or write at length" is from 1560s. Earlier in now-obsolete sense of "run or travel over" (1540s), the literal sense of the Latin verb. Related: Discoursed; discoursing.

        In summary, I would wish for less debate and more dialogue or discourse :)

        7 votes
        1. hook
          Link Parent
          This article (PDF) explains the important differences in a very concise way.

          This article (PDF) explains the important differences in a very concise way.

          2 votes
    2. [6]
      ThatFanficGuy
      Link Parent
      I'm of the school of thought that says to each truly is their own.

      Don't use snark, sarcasm, "fuck", "shit", or try being "funny" or "witty" in general. This is not an "avoid", this is a "just don't at all". It almost never works well.

      I'm of the school of thought that says to each truly is their own.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        arp242
        Link Parent
        Well, you can do whatever you want; but if what you want is thoughtful conversations of worth, then insults are not conducive to that.

        Well, you can do whatever you want; but if what you want is thoughtful conversations of worth, then insults are not conducive to that.

        7 votes
        1. [2]
          ThatFanficGuy
          Link Parent
          You moved the goalpost. "Insults" was never part of the conversation I took you up on. "Aggression" was, and so was its expression, as per the title of the linked post. Conflating the two betrays...

          You moved the goalpost. "Insults" was never part of the conversation I took you up on. "Aggression" was, and so was its expression, as per the title of the linked post. Conflating the two betrays lacking in understanding of the difference between the two.

          I could very well state my opinion without deferring to curse words to express just how frustrated I am by the subject matter – but I find that disingenuous on my end, self-repressive, and, most important, obtrusive to just how crucial the subject matter is. I'm not often upset by minutiae. If you see me upset, it's usually because of a higher principle that someone's violated.

          "It almost never works" because most people have no idea how to channel the anger properly. They resort to basic ad hominem and "you're full of shit, I'm not talking to you" because it's easier to find the target on the other side of the conversation than to keep your anger in your fist and look up what it is that truly begrieves you. That is where your notion of "don't do the witty thing" stems from: the fact that you rarely see anger channeled well.

          Dismissiveness of irregular circumstance is often the exact kind of attitude in dialogue that makes conversations go real fuckin' bad, real fuckin' fast. Learning about irregular circumstance – understand where said irregular circumstance – may lead you to a more certain plane of ideas where the two of you can gain each other's trust.

          You can be mean. You can be aggressive. These two states sometimes collide but not always. Understanding that nuance may lead to a more productive – or at least more respectful – conversation.

          3 votes
          1. arp242
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            I'm sorry, but you linked some random thing you wrote 9 years ago and after several paragraphs (and skimming the rest) I didn't see anything which seemed to address anything I wrote, but the...

            I'm sorry, but you linked some random thing you wrote 9 years ago and after several paragraphs (and skimming the rest) I didn't see anything which seemed to address anything I wrote, but the general gist I got was "I like to be mean to people sometimes".

            I never said anything about "aggression" (and you very much did quote the insult part of my reply). If you don't want me to "move the goalposts" then be clear what you're addressing specifically instead of linking a post and letting me figure out how this applies to what I wrote. Either way, snark, sarcasm, or being witty are not the same as "aggression"; however you might define that. I would define it as being direct, to the point, and not mincing words; all things you can do that without trying to be a comedian about it (what's funny in Blackadder doesn't always work in real life).

            I never said anything about anger either, by the way. You can feel scared, angry, happy, horny, etc.; I don't really care. My comments were on style, not internal emotions.

            I don't understand what you mean with "dismissiveness of irregular circumstance". As in, I know what the words mean, but I don't see what you mean with it

            5 votes
      2. [2]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        I don't get it. That Reddit post seems to be someone's very elaborate way to tell people to fuck off. Is that the point?

        I don't get it. That Reddit post seems to be someone's very elaborate way to tell people to fuck off. Is that the point?

        3 votes
        1. ThatFanficGuy
          Link Parent
          Yes, but it also delves into the reasons why said someone is they way they are. This exploration is why I linked it. Up to this point this is the best elaboration on this phenomenon I have found....

          Yes, but it also delves into the reasons why said someone is they way they are. This exploration is why I linked it. Up to this point this is the best elaboration on this phenomenon I have found. Could probably be worded better by someone else, but I've seen nothing else so far.

  3. [4]
    rkcr
    Link
    "Be respectful" is really doing the heavy lifting here. In fact, that's basically all you need in order not to make an ass of yourself online.

    "Be respectful" is really doing the heavy lifting here. In fact, that's basically all you need in order not to make an ass of yourself online.

    10 votes
    1. [3]
      arp242
      Link Parent
      "Be respectful" is one of those thing that more or less everyone agrees on, like "don't be an asshole" or "don't be sexist". However, turns out that often things aren't quite as easy as "don't be...

      "Be respectful" is one of those thing that more or less everyone agrees on, like "don't be an asshole" or "don't be sexist". However, turns out that often things aren't quite as easy as "don't be [..]". People aren't always aware of how they're being perceived (especially over text), and it's not always easy to engage in a way that gets the most out of a conversation.

      This is one reason I'm not a huge fan of "code of conducts" and the like, because I don't necessarily disagree with anything in them as such (okay, I do have a few minor gripes), but just because most are not all that helpful at actually do better.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        rkcr
        Link Parent
        I agree that "be respectful" is quite vague! But that's also because there is a lifetime of lessons to be learned about being respectful online, impossible to be summarized. It's not easy, there...

        I agree that "be respectful" is quite vague! But that's also because there is a lifetime of lessons to be learned about being respectful online, impossible to be summarized. It's not easy, there are many facets to learn, usually the hard way.

        IMO, vague CoCs are useful because they are so vague. You want to set some general ground rules that allow one to moderate, but if you're overly specific then rules lawyers will slowly drive your better members away.

        8 votes
        1. arp242
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I agree it's very hard, but that doesn't mean you can't give some good guidance. Rule lawyering is terrible; it gives power to the most toxic of people. My "favourite" example was someone saying...

          I agree it's very hard, but that doesn't mean you can't give some good guidance.

          Rule lawyering is terrible; it gives power to the most toxic of people. My "favourite" example was someone saying "Mona, here's someone calling you a cunt" with a link and then rule-lawyering that he didn't actually call someone a cunt, but just pointed out that someone else called her a cunt, and that it was therefore "not against the rules". He managed to make this "defence" stick too :-/

          But that's not really what I intended: I meant a "code of conduct" more as in "here as guidelines on how to conduct". That is, something similar to the list I posted here already. I think that's a fundamental different approach and feel would be much more constructive. Most conflict don't happen because people want to be mean or something, they happen due to misunderstandings and miscommunications that escalate (although I'm sure some people would disagree). Al least, that's been my experience and observation.

          2 votes
  4. [4]
    vord
    Link
    I largely agree with post, but properly sourcing is hard. It's virtually impossible to source everything unless you literally bookmark, annotate, and index every bit of info you come across....

    I largely agree with post, but properly sourcing is hard. It's virtually impossible to source everything unless you literally bookmark, annotate, and index every bit of info you come across. Doesn't help that legit good sources are often paywalled. This is especially true when it comes to offhand internet comments instead of published articles. Ain't nobody got time to source everything. Might even be a good thing for others to source your info, as it shows your not the only one who found it.

    And even then...there's a ton of heavily biased 'studies,' and thanks to bubbles it's easier to find what you want vs what you don't want.

    8 votes
    1. [3]
      mftrhu
      Link Parent
      For the latter, Sci-Hub and Library Genesis can bypass most paywalls, and for the former... It can be time-consuming, but in my experience, once you have done the legwork for a given topic, you...

      It's virtually impossible to source everything unless you literally bookmark, annotate, and index every bit of info you come across. Doesn't help that legit good sources are often paywalled.

      For the latter, Sci-Hub and Library Genesis can bypass most paywalls, and for the former... It can be time-consuming, but in my experience, once you have done the legwork for a given topic, you can stop worrying about it: discussions on the Internet tend to be very repetitive. Hell, people are still using the Leuchter Report to argue against the Holocaust, and people had already debunked that back in 1993!

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        Thra11
        Link Parent
        The work doesn't stop with finding and linking sources. Whenever you read a claim with a linked source, you have to read the source and check that it: a) is reputable b) supports the claims If...

        The work doesn't stop with finding and linking sources. Whenever you read a claim with a linked source, you have to read the source and check that it:
        a) is reputable
        b) supports the claims

        If people don't do this, adding sources is at best pointless (because nobody should trust them if they're not reading them), and potentially harmful (because they appear to lend authority to a claim).

        I suspect it is particularly rare for people to check the sources if they already agree with the claim in question.

        3 votes
        1. mftrhu
          Link Parent
          People hardly ever do that, and in my experience that's no work at all: their links, if there are any, often end up being purple as a testament of my interlocutor's love for recycling. It's why I...

          Whenever you read a claim with a linked source [...]

          People hardly ever do that, and in my experience that's no work at all: their links, if there are any, often end up being purple as a testament of my interlocutor's love for recycling.

          It's why I strongly disagree with the OP: the vast majority of online interactions are neither about anything new nor discussions,, and approaching them as such - assuming good faith - is counterproductive. This happens even, and maybe especially, in places where people think of themselves as rational, open-minded, free-thinking. Those suggestions can be useful, I suppose, for topics that don't directly touch those who are discussing them, as they are extremely tone-deaf otherwise.

          2 votes
  5. nothis
    Link
    Write whatever you feel you must write and then, right before hitting "post", wait a few minutes/hours/days. Might save you from a very stupid discussion.

    Write whatever you feel you must write and then, right before hitting "post", wait a few minutes/hours/days. Might save you from a very stupid discussion.

    7 votes
  6. [2]
    MetArtScroll
    Link
    @Deimos, I daresay this topic deserves being linked from Tildes' docs.

    @Deimos, I daresay this topic deserves being linked from Tildes' docs.

    4 votes
    1. Deimos
      Link Parent
      Agreed. I've got a "Posting Guidelines" page I've been (very slowly) building up but haven't actually added yet, with some more specific guidelines and suggestions about posting good...

      Agreed. I've got a "Posting Guidelines" page I've been (very slowly) building up but haven't actually added yet, with some more specific guidelines and suggestions about posting good topics/comments. A lot of the ideas being discussed in here would go great in the commenting section.

      4 votes