A Facebook friend of yours has posted a link to some political article or video or cartoon with a comment to the effect of “OMG! SO WRONG.” But it doesn’t seem that wrong to you. You say as much in a comment. Your friend lists all the ways it is, in fact, wrong. Suddenly your mouth runs dry. You can’t think of a counter-argument. You just made a fool of yourself by getting your friend to make their original argument. You have nothing to say that won’t make you look stupid. You leave the comment thread with your tail tucked securely between your legs. Or, even worse, you point out a grammatical error of theirs . . . giving everyone who sees this ample opportunity for your verbal destruction.
It sucks, doesn’t it? Well, don’t let bad experiences hold you back from making a good point. All it takes is practice. As you learn more about politics and the way others approach it, you’ll make your own approach that much stronger. Here are some tips I’ve devised after years of picking online fights:
Snark first, logic second.
Open by saying something mean about the politician or group with whom your opponent has sided. They will typically retort with a mean comment about the politician/group with whom you’ve sided, or perhaps you. By this point, they could be expecting a lengthy exchange of insults. This is when you throw them off completely by tearing apart the substance of their argument for the rest of the debate. Keep building upon it until you’ve established your position as superior. You may even throw in something complimentary about the original target, to prove further that you aren’t running on blind dislike.
Stay above ad hominem attacks.
Let’s say your opponent calls you a name, or accuses you of being unattractive and lonely, or says something about your mama. You say: “I find your use of epithets and personal commentary unproductive and childish.” They hear: “Why are you so mean to meeeeeeeeeee?” If they misrepresent you in a way that undermines your credibility in the argument, by all means correct them. But stay above outright immaturity. They didn’t.
There are no excuses for leaving a debate unfinished. Whoever gets the last word will subsequently get the joy of (apparent) victory. Obviously it’s not always possible to be online at all times, so take a break if you have to, but get right back to it as soon as you can. Exhausted? Do it anyway. Your computer crashed? Use your smartphone.
If they catch you in a mistake, admit it.
Only assholes do otherwise. If either one of you is going to be the asshole, let it be them.
Theology? Don’t even bother.
No amount of advice or experience will help you convince an opponent that their perspective on the existence of (a) God(s) is wrong. That’s a debate that isn’t even worth starting. Keep your thoughts on religion where they belong – in your head.
Show you’ve enjoyed it.
End the round with something like “This was fun. Let’s do it again.” A seasoned debater will find a way to re-engage you at some point soon, and both of you will get a good mental workout when they do. On the other hand, a noob (and there are many) will be intimidated by your enjoyment, and reminded that you’ve been doing this sort of thing much longer than they have and are just salivating over your next chance to demolish them.
If anyone would like to practice their debate skills, fortified with these tips, I’m available on Twitter at @Jess_TFA. I look forward to meeting you.