Having an argument on the internet is like running into a wall. It is a waste of time and generally ends in a headache.
Why is an argument on the internet ineffective?
Arguing on the internet is mostly ineffective, often destructive, and dangerous. No matter who you are, it’s very likely that you may have spent some time arguing with someone online. It often leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth and you just can’t believe that the person is simply incapable of accepting the truth. Author David McRaney, in his post on the subject, people tend to believe in something even more if that belief is challenged.
Bogus arguments and inaccurate facts are unavoidable parts of social media. Even so, no matter how wrong someone is, or how much counter-proof you provide, an argument on the internet rarely changes someone’s mind. British philosopher John Stuart, more than 150 years ago, explained why certain arguments just don’t go anywhere.
Robert Saunders, a historian, noted that Mill’s analysis applies to today’s intense but futile internet debates. According to Mill, a lot of opinions are not based on facts, but feelings. Therefore, contradictory information does not shift such emotionally rooted arguments. It ends up making these opinions stronger when counter-arguments are presented against them. Mill also says, that conflicting claims would weaken held opinions if they were based only on facts.
Most people understand that opinions are motivated by emotions and therefore behave accordingly. Techniques like rhetoric, confident mannerisms, and passionate remarks are used by many to convince others of their opinions. Studies have also shown the importance of emotions while deciding between options.
When online, you cannot see the other persons’ faces or moods, making it easy to lose track of emotions. Consequently, instead of respecting other’s feelings and engaging with them, you may show a tendency to bombard someone with opposing views with facts.
Mill, according to Saunders, also had another piece of advice on how to deal with something like this. Maybe, instead of trying to convince the other person, you could be open to changing your own mind. You could also seek information that contradicts your own opinions. This might just help you realize that maybe the other person had a better understanding of facts and the correct opinion.
What can an argument do?
An argument online can be disruptive and generally ineffective. Here are a few reasons why.
A communication behind the screen can increase the chances of a misunderstanding exponentially. This is because you miss out on all nonverbal communication like body language and tone. When you text behind a screen, a simple phrase, which could have so many meanings depending on the tone and body language, remains just that, a simple phrase. This leads to assumptions and interpretations about how the other person is saying something. Your mood and perception of the other person will define what you make out of the phrase. This can lead to misunderstandings.
No intention to understand
People argue on the internet, mostly, not with an intention to resolve an argument or understand each other. It is mostly about stating an opinion, which, in turn, is ineffective. An argument renders ineffective when everyone wants to state an opinion but no one wants to listen. This leads to hostility and lesser tolerance.
People say things they normally wouldn’t
Everyone feels safer behind a computer screen. This leads to people making statements they normally wouldn’t. When separated by a screen, seeing a person as an object, or minimizing the impact of what is said becomes easier. Often, being behind the screen brings out the worst in a person, making the person sarcastic, patronizing, and intolerant.
How to do it better?
Though speaking in person is the best way to do it, you may not have the opportunity to do so. In such cases, you can follow a few tips to ensure the argument doesn’t turn nasty.
- Understand: Try to take the time to understand the person’s point of view. Listen, paraphrase, and help the person feel validated. If you do this, the person is more likely to listen to your viewpoint too.
- Be kind: If you are in an argument online, don’t forget to use kindness, tact, and humility.
- Bad Mood? Stop that argument: Before you continue posting your opinion, take your time to think of your state of mind. Try to avoid posting if you are in a bad mood. Try to avoid discussions that are toxic.
If you do have to deal with an argument or discussion online and cannot avoid it, make sure you listen, try to understand, and be kind.