How to Argue With Your Peers on the Internet

A friendly guide for the amateur interlocutor.

By Andrew Farry

  1. Select an opinion you have; hopefully you have some. It can’t be something obvious, like “epidemics are very bad” or “don’t say that fellow students should be executed.” People have to disagree with it.

    1. You don’t have any opinions? Well, that’s why I’m here to help! This will only take a minute. Head to the UChicago’s Facebook meme page and find the topic du jour (a smattering of foreign languages not only benefits your romantic life but will make you seem pretentious and thus a worthwhile target for civilized debate). As always, there will be multiple sides to any issue. Pick one, but nothing too subtle.

    2. All you’ve found on the meme page is some good natured fun? Not to worry, head on over to UChicago Secrets and take a dip in the cesspool. You’re sure to find an opinion there.

  2. Post your opinion in a public forum—let’s say in the comment section of some Viewpoints column that thinks it’s clever or perhaps on the Facebook page of some boring RSO. Can’t find either of these? Just regurgitate it onto the meme page or UChicago Secrets (ugh).

  3. Rack up three likes and a comment from someone tagging their friend.

Okay, it seems like you’re not good at this. Let’s try again. 

  1. Remember your opinion? Make it more controversial. An easy way to do this is to use what we in the business call “hyperbole.” This means raising the stakes. Use emotionally charged language, refer to historical atrocities, make wild generalizations, and present it as a fact.

  2. Post your opinion on the comments section of a pre-existing post that seems controversial. Your comment needs to only be tangentially related to the original post. Don’t even read it fully—it will only distract you.

  3. Voilà! Responses! Here’s where it gets a little difficult, because before you start arguing, you’ll need to make some personal adjustments:

    1. Your opinion is now a fact (not hard to believe, you’re pretty smart).

    2. You now have a strong emotional connection to your opinion (think of it as a weird pet like a turtle or one of those bugs that look like leaves. It’s not going to do anything cool, but at least it’s yours).

  4. Scroll down through the responses. Ah, here’s someone who’s expressing some doubt. It seems to them like you might be “exaggerating” or “not considering both sides.”

  5. You’re tempted to respond: “Well, yes I did exaggerate a little to get attention because I think the topic is important and deserves discussion. Honestly, I’m not very knowledgeable about other views and was hoping—”

What the hell do you think you’re doing? I step away for one minute and you’re responding like you would in person to someone you respect as a fellow human! This is the internet, you don’t have to act “decent.”

  1. Let’s try this again. Look back at step six. If your opinion is a fact, then anyone denying it is a total idiot, and what’s more, by disagreeing, they’re attacking you. They stole your leafbug or whatever it’s called and now they’re insisting that tossing it into a pool of bleach will help it metamorphose into a butterfly. This person needs to be stopped! Begin your reply with “Hey asshole.”

What’s that, you don’t think that’s a good way to convert them to your opinion? You’re not trying to convert them! It’s impossible! If this person was the sort of rational, intelligent human whose mind could be changed, they would already agree with you.

  1. Ok, now let’s try this again. Escalate the discussion with a ridiculously over-the top-attack on their character. Nothing too cliché though: Make it personal. If you’d like, throw in a few anecdotes or facts along the way, but make sure to stay on topic. This is an argument, not a discussion or debate. You’re trying to emulate pre-schoolers, or the sad old people who anonymously comment on Maroon articles here, not college students, presidents or news anchors.

    1. A quick aside here, if you’re feeling uncomfortable at this point, I’m not sure I can help you. Just try to visualize your partner in discourse chopping up your woodlouse with a scimitar.

  2. For some reason this person you’ve just attacked is angry, which is just typical of a [insert broad, discriminatory stereotype here]; they always get so emotional, unlike you, a clear-headed paragon of reason

  3. Tell them to calm down or to stop being such a child. Perhaps express shock that your attack on them was met with such hostility and toss out whatever buzzwords are in vogue (I learned this from Madonna—turns out it too is French, so I have a new word to use on dates).

  4. Now here, we’ve got a sort of choose-your-own-adventure situation (excellent books by the way, I recommend the postmodern masterpiece Inside UFO 54-40—sadly I receive no money on Amazon affiliate links). You have two options:

    1. Move on, finish that paper, study for that midterm, maybe finally go downtown. Later, when you’re bored in the dining hall or on the shuttle, find a new opinion and needlessly piss someone else off (End of Book).

    2. ESCALATE (Go to step 15).

  5. Get yourself some allies: friends, siblings, mom, Twitter bots, struggling writers looking for more views for a clickbait website which oddly has the same name as something which used to be a real news source while their dreams of a journalistic career rot in a haze of bounced checks and listicles.

  6. Start some fights. With a few allies you’ve got carte-blanche to start telling fellow human beings that they should die. 

  7. Self-righteously assign yourself the high ground while using disgusting language and making awful implications about other people. It should be easy now: Everyone will be doing it. Make sure to forgive any offenses committed by you or those on your “side” (oh, I didn’t mean what I said), but don’t do the same for others.

  8. Scroll up to your first comment. Reread what you commented on. Maybe it’s a Facebook post or an article, or a comment on a post or article. It’s a controversial opinion which makes a big generalization and is a little insulting. It seems like this person might not have thought through what they were saying. Did you overreact? Were you being an asshole?

  9. Build a time machine and head back to step three.

  10. Just one response to your comment? That’s okay. 

  11. Turn off your phone, shut your computer just for a minute, and go outside. Smile. You’re looking pretty chic 😉

Andrew Farry is a second-year in the College.