How to argue on the internet

At least a dozen people have sent this XKCD cartoon to me over the years.

It’s plenty hard enough to get someone to listen to your arguments in a debate, given how attached people are naturally to their own ideas and ways of thinking. But it becomes even harder when you trigger someone’s emotional side, by making them feel like you’re attacking them and putting them automatically into “defend myself” mode (or worse, “lash out” mode), rather than “listen reasonably” mode.

Unfortunately, online debates are full of emotional tripwires, partly because tone isn’t always easy to detect in the written word, and even comments intended neutrally can come off as snide or snippy… and also because not having to say something to someone’s face seems to bring out the immature child inside grown adults.

But on the plus side, debating online at least has the benefit that you can take the time to think about your wording before you comment or email someone. Below, I walk you through my process of revising my wording to reduce the risk of making someone angry and defensive, and increase my chances that they’ll genuinely consider what I have to say.

DRAFT 1 (My first impulse is to say): “You idiot, you’re ignoring…”

Duh. Get rid of the insult.

DRAFT 2: “You’re ignoring…”

I should make it clear I’m attacking an idea, not a person.

DRAFT 3: “Your argument is ignoring…”

This can still be depersonalized. By using the word “your,” I’m encouraging the person to identify the argument with himself, which can still trigger a defensive reaction when I attack the argument. That’s the exact opposite of what I want to do.

DRAFT 4: “That argument is ignoring…”

Almost perfect. The only remaining room for improvement is the word “ignoring,” which implies an intentional disregard, and sounds like an accusation. Better to use something neutral instead:

DRAFT 5: “That argument isn’t taking into account…”

Done.  Of course, chances are I still won’t persuade them, but at least I’ve given myself the best chance possible… and done my part to help keep the Internet civilized. Or at least a tiny bit less savage! 

210 Responses to How to argue on the internet

  1. Awais Aftab says:

    I admire how much effort you put into phrasing your arguments so as to avoid a triggering an emotional response. Philosophical debates would be so much more productive if we could just get the hang of these psychological triggers influencing our discussions.

  2. Doug Molitor says:

    Thank you. Astute and much-needed. Additionally, I would caution against arguments that use words that indicate sarcastic delivery, such as beginning one’s reply with “Uh,” or “Hey, ” Also, I’d avoid emotional punctuation: exclamation points, interabangs and double question marks.

  3. Anon Y. Mouse says:

    You idiot, you’re ignoring the fact that people on the Internet won’t read past “That argument isn’t taking into account…” if they haven’t encountered a personal insult by then. Civility is no fun when everyone is out of butt-kicking range!

    Or maybe I just spend too much time on YouTube. 🙂

    • Oldcat says:

      Comments like this are just how Nazi Germany got started!

      • Just Sayin' says:

        I was going to comment about the whole Nazi thing. But, then I realized you are a cat having a conversation with a mouse. Which brings me back to my original urge to post something about the Third Reich starting in the mind of a madman. But that topic is just way to serious for a Friday night.

    • Making people mad is easy. says:

      LOLYES I love this post. I just like making people angry until they give up and quit an argument.

  4. davidad says:

    While depersonalization and removal of direct judgement certainly go a long way toward softening such correspondence, I think this approach might be taken even further by authoritatively acknowledging what the other person has said, then dropping the authoritative tone to make revisions. By deliberately placing yourself in a rhetorically weak position, you could avoid perception as a threat, and let the ideas stand on their own merit. If you want to be especially tricky, as the post continues, gradually reintroduce personalization and authoritative tone – by the end, the reader will surely be convinced.

  5. JerL says:

    My approach is both the depersonalize the issue and to concede every point I can (without betraying my beliefs) to demonstrate both to show our points of overlap and as a gesture that I’m arguing in good faith. Of course, the crazier the person, the harder it is to find common ground.

    • Lilith says:

      Gosh! I must now become deeply introspective…the crazier the person, the easier I find common ground with them….smile , wryly then suspiciously….

      And – the other day when I expressed an Opinion with a capital O, someone said “There’s one in every bunch.” Gosh the old ad hominem attack, an oldie but a goodie!

  6. harmamae says:

    So true! So many arguments on the internet just go round and round. Good advice on avoiding that.

  7. Andrew T says:

    Mr/s. Mouse, in my experience YouTube comments are the absolute bottom of the barrel when it comes to civil discussion 🙂

    Sometimes it’s useful to start a comment with “I feel like…” or a similar qualifier, even if your point is fairly factual/logical. Yeah, it sounds wishy washy and adds no new information, but depending on the situation it can be useful in taking the tone of the discussion back to a “this is a contribution to the debate” place from a more aggressive one. Kind of similar to davidad’s putting yourself in a rhetorically weak position. Another similar approach is to phrase things in the form of a question, leaving the other side feeling “safe” to consider the ideas: “Do you think that [evidence] indicates that [conclusion]?”

    On other other hand, depending on the “opponent”, sometimes it’s just too tempting to passive aggressively push people’s buttons 🙂

  8. Steve says:

    Interesting point Julia (does this work?), although that argument does beg the question about the best way to persuade someone. 🙂 (This will help express that I’m smiling while making make comment and it is in no way intended to be agressive whether in the passive or active form)

  9. Blamer .. says:

    Great post. I agree with your advice on how to argue online.

    As for whether it works to convince the arguer (as distinct from any bi-standers), I’d like to learn if a concensus is emerging amongst the social sciences.

    I suspect that what works won’t be so generalisable. That is, it will tend to be highly situation specific. More often that not, I see blog comments as drive-by shootings – not constructive dialogs. Taking the hard case of YouTube, perhaps nothing works.

    For me the beauty of online turn-based arguments is The Hyperlink because it gives those curious an opportunity to drill down into some specific detail (eg. motivated reasoning) or get some context for where I’m coming from (eg. dissonance minimalist).

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  13. Enjoyed this post. I think it will really help me very much. I have been in the habit of getting into the attacking mode while debating online, and still ain’t quite good at maintaining the calm. But this post sure is inspiring. Thanks for writing it.

  14. Manank Gor says:

    good post 🙂

  15. What great “checks” you have before going into a debate. I bet you do well at it!

  16. ournote2self says:

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Great post. It amazes me how many people are deliberatly inflamatory on the internet. All they end up doing is making those who disagree with them more angry.

  18. Great cartoon (I’ve seen it before, too … from many sources!) … and fun deconstructed insult. I only wish I had the ability to edit my verbal comments the way we can in the written medium!

  19. runningmanda says:

    Very cute post and I like the seriousness of how you try and analyze your statements and the awareness to others. I thought this was going to be a humor (only) type of post about the fights we all see on facebook and in comment areas between random people. But, I like how you put some ideas out there for people to go “hmm” and think next time they give any type of critisism to another, whether online or in person!

  20. Trevor Smith says:

    Sound advice, I’ll keep this in mind as I traverse the webternet (not) starting fights!

  21. Nicole says:

    Great article. This is something we can all relate to.

  22. Julia, I can’t argue with that post! Well written and funny.

    Congrats on being Freshly Vented..oops, I mean Freshly Pressed.

    Mr. Bricks

  23. Nice advice.

    I generally don’t even bother trying to persuade anyone of anything on the Internet — I call it arguing with ghosts. I have no idea who these people really are and so have no way to know how intelligently thought through their ideas and arguments. I’ve been called a c–t and worse by people who “disagree’ with me at opensalon where I blogged for a year. I was also there threatened by a man who said he would “beat me bloody” for spreading lies. I called the police and made sure he was removed from opensalon.

    It’s not a joke. Rudeness is one thing. Readers need to know it’s against the law when it goes that far, and you have every right to call the police to protect yourself if you really feel at risk.

    I grew up in Canada, where civil discourse seems somewhat more socially valued. Here, it’s too often whoever brings the biggest hammer and, verbally, smashes hardest.

  24. Ha ha ha! It is sooooo tempting to just stop at the “You idiot” part and click “Send”. Or at least, it is for me! If only it were socially acceptable to send all drafts so that said idiot could truly appreciate my exercise in selflessness. That would help, right? 😉

  25. Idiots. Who wants to be civil on the internet. Lol jk!

  26. I’m always up for a good, healthy argument, so I appreciate these tips! I know I’ll use them for a while, but, at some point, I’ll get into an online argument, call someone a “moron” and then shut down my computer. BAM. Argument over.

    Me: 1. Other guy: 0

    That IS how you win arguments, isn’t it…? 😉

    Great tips, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  27. Steve says:

    Never argue with an idiot. People might not be able to tell the difference.

  28. TJ Johnston says:

    That is so totally wrong …uhhh, what was the topic again? 🙂
    Sound advice, for both online and offline worlds. Also, congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  29. I waste too much time reading comments after articles on basically any web site, and I must agree with you – people do ignore basically everything in the article!

    Yesterday I posted a comment stating a fact – no emotions, just that fact. The reply from someone was – I do not think it is true.
    Look it up, idiot!

    Great post!

  30. Kimberley says:

    Nice post. I try really hard not to offend others which leads to a 15 minute task sometimes taking 2 hours. If everyone would work a little harder at civility, this world would be a much nicer place. On the other hand, these people who speak (type) off the cuff probably get a lot more done.

  31. wadingacross says:

    Bah. You don’t know what you’re talking about.


    My posts often take hours to craft. Yes, I call it crafting. It used to be even worse when I hung out on message boards. Debates. Ugh.

    My opinions and beliefs are often inflammatory enough without me having to needlessly, emotionally, insert obnoxious invectives and such. It’s a lifelong walk though. No one is perfect, and it is quite easy to get stirred up.

  32. pacatatu says:

    I’m constantly arguing with the radio, TV (mostly FOX), and various blogs I stumble upon – you put it so well! I can’t argue with that!!!! Thanks for the post.

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  34. David Gay says:

    This made me chuckle. Funny to consider how silly the Internet is.

  35. Snat says:

    I learnt ages ago, never bothering debating on the Internet – the other side doesn’t care 🙂

  36. Eva McCane says:

    hilarious! unfortunately, i’m a little type-happy and tend to forget about tact. i’ll try to remember your suggestions moving forward 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  37. beyondanomie says:

    Frankly, 99% of the arguments people have on the internet are a complete waste of everyone’s time, with no meaningful exchange of ideas and it being a garbled swapping of talking points. Still, when you think about it, that’s about the same as the percentage of pointless arguments people have in real life, too, so it’s not exactly the internet’s fault. 😉

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  39. Sterling says:

    It’s pretty humorous how people get so worked up with their ideas being questioned and critiqued

  40. This is awesome! It takes me forever to write those kinds of emails because I’m so paranoid about not offending anyone. You have a very eloquent way of breaking down this often-agonizing mental process 🙂

  41. Another thing to consider is that some of these internet users, well a lot of them, ARE children. I’ve participated in lots of webforums in my day(11 years, since I was 16) and a lot of the drama I’ve seen have come from 11-13 year olds and older teenagers who are probably going wild about the kinds of interactions and information they can find on the internet and trying to integrate it through imitation. Of course, there are other stories, but I think that one is worth noting and something I often bring awareness to when I see unintelligent and overly vicious attacks on the internet.

  42. I was watching a youtube video podcast the other day which I had downloaded previously (it was an hour long) and I was watching it on my laptop from a location with no internet access. After a few minutes I felt I wanted to respond to something being said and then remembered it wasn’t youtube in full screen mode, it was a video file – and I wasn’t on the internet! I felt like I had been gagged!!

    And then I remembered this is what the TV is like all the time! You can’t contribute at all – you have to just sit there, shut up and listen!

    My point being the ability to comment and argue things online IS progress in a very positive direction indeed. And so the next time you get frustrated or annoyed by comments and/ or commenting just try and imagine going back to the days of only having mass media telling us what to think with no means to reply, contribute or join in the debate.

    I think the quality of online debating IS getting better on average even if it doesn’t seem that way much of the time. Just as teenagers have to adjust to the transition from effectively having no voice and no real status (sadly), to having a voice and having status as an adult – we are also having to adjust to having a voice and having the ability to converse with each other online …… this is not just new – it is revolutionary! We haven’t had this ability before – ever!

    One of the most most destructive trends in relation to this though is the character limits placed on comments. This is the intellectual equivalent of binding feet and there has got to be a better way – such as expandable comments perhaps? I don’t ‘do’ twitter but limiting communication to 150 characters seems very unhealthy to me. Youtube’s 500ch limit is a pain also – almost as much as its increasing censorship.

    One of my favourite debaters online is Stefan Moleneux. If you think you know what a rational argument is and how to have one think again! He puts most of us to shame with his erudite and clear arguing method and style.

    He’s a joy to listen to whatever your own philosophical/ political perspective may be. See if you can mount an argument against his ……. 😉

    “How to Win a Political Arguments – Stefan Moleneux”

  43. The mere suggestion for internet users to edit themselves is a very good one and your reasoning and thorough analysis made this a great read. It seems as though many people feel like they have a certain degree of anonymity online or at least power, which often results in ridiculous Facebook wall wars or petty comments that one should be less than pleased to have any esteemed person discover. Basically, I am of the belief that if people heeded your call to self-filtering there would be far less web-blunders and regrets! 🙂

  44. Abigail says:

    I love how you immediately switch it into passive voice. I have found myself on occasion intentionally putting my own words into passive voice, just so I can sound like I am attacking less. I don’t know if it works, but it makes me feel like it might have helped.

    One thing that I think almost everyone involved in an argument must realize, however, is that the person I am debating will probably not change their mind immediately during the argument. People, at least the ones I am around (Hey, even I do.), NEED to be right when they are in front of you, even if they go home, research what you said, research their side, and change their mind later, when you never even get to see the results of your debate. Just a thought.

    • Andrew T says:

      Wow, excellent point about not expecting immediate results. Definitely seems like a good way to redefine your standards of “successful argument” to reflect how people actually react.

  45. Samantha says:

    This is great advice, and hopefully great methods of minimizing drama on the Internet when discussing a topic. However, some places (such as YouTube) seem nigh unsavable.

  46. Brilliant. I will use that forever more.

  47. myaphotoblog says:

    So true! This is the reason why I don’t bother with youtube anymore. Everything becomes personal. Any online forums you go to, even when you are looking for something as simple as writing a perl script somehow always turns into a personal and emotionally charged argument!

  48. letempspasse says:

    Interesting post. Just last night, a friend and I were talking about the fact that, these days, with the explosion of social media, it seems like everyone has an opinion on just about any topic, whether they know about it or not. I’m not sure if having an argument or debate with someone who hasn’t actually spent time learning and thinking about a specific issue is worth having. Personally, before expending any kind of energy, I’d start by figuring out who’s on the other side of the table…

  49. Classic says:

    Well, well, well, well, well. Look who is finally on Freshly Pressed! About time, ya’ll deserve it 🙂
    Excellent post – though I’m ashamed to say at times it’s too tempting to just ‘let them have it’.

  50. great post – seriously

  51. Julia: You’re worse than Hitler.

    Kidding, kidding, kidding. Great post.

  52. Humberto says:

    If we are thinking before to write we do less mistakes

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  54. ericbierker says:

    Or you can just delete

  55. I love this! Way too funny!

  56. Sai says:

    I do this self-editing thing so often. Like you said, so many people are attached to their own arguments that you have to be mindful of what and how you say what you need to say in order to get your point across without offending them. I tend to avoid/ignore persons who don’t appreciate what a discussion with different points of view is all about. There’s a lotta ppl on the internet like that..a
    I will admit though..sometimes people need to hear that they’re talking

  57. Congratulations on being freshly pressed you two. I enjoyed your article along with other’s how to comments as well; “Yesterday I posted a comment stating a fact – no emotions, just that fact. The reply from someone was – I do not think it is true.
    Look it up, idiot!” ~ fornormalstepfathers that one just cracks me up.
    It’s great when able a healthy exchange of ideas can be communicated between us, but often in the debates I’ve encountered seeing the other’s side enough to possibly do so seems to get overlooked. I don’t mind the being challenged to stand up for what I believe in, I would question every thing, but really do embrace the idea of being civil with one another it’s very appealing especially with the world in enough turmoil as it is.
    There are two sides to every story; yours, theirs and some where in the middle lies the truth ~ old saying(“-“)

  58. This made me giggle 😛

    It was a good read, thanks for that

    Arjun Kay

  59. A wonderful demonstration of mindful speech. It is so simple!

  60. Alli says:

    Loved the step by step advice. Tried to use most of it when the tone in a recent post was taken meanness. Perhaps it was, though I was just trying to be amusingly snarky. *sigh*. One gal’s snark is another guy’s hostility. I made good use of the depersonalization in my reply to the comment, but I fear the distance this put up may backfire. Oh well. Someone above pointed out this is a lifelong walk. And while we should all try to be more civil we should also be conscious of the triggers. Is your next post ‘How to de-escalate yourself when someone calls you an idiot?’ Congrats on FP!

  61. Great post and congratulations on being freshly pressed. Thanks for sharing!

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  63. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and sharing your insight.

    We all do need to communicate well in this virtual world of ours where our facial and emotional expressions are hidden behind our words.

  64. Paula says:

    I often debate on the internet and it is hard to keep it civilized, free of insults and whatnot. Great to see advice for others out there! I won’t even use insults or namecalling, no matter how diffcult it may be at times, because even if they never change their mind with what I have to say I want it to be respected, to be respected. And if I’m insulting and namecalling I will never reach them at all. And if I’m debating a sensitive subject I try to be extra careful with my wording while still expressing my view. It’s so easy to get riled up but c’mon I’m at my computer I absolutely do not hafta react negatively.

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  66. Sorry. Let me rephrase that.

    The point you make in this post is appropriate.

  67. truthspew says:

    Interesting perspective on it. Me, I just go for the jugular. i look at it this way, it’s going to be acrimonious sooner than later no matter how nice you try to be.

    And I’ve discovered something else, I have a talent for pissing upon the corn flakes of Tea Baggers. it’s great fun.

  68. smilau says:

    Excellent example of how to process through a reply, and I liked your explanation of each step.

    I often wait 20 minutes before hitting send or ask someone who isn’t emotionally involved in the argument to read my response before I send it – especially when it’s work related.

    Good job! Keep writing. We need people who work at being kind.

  69. Gigi says:

    I can relate to the stickman.

  70. kvennarad says:

    Very interesting and sound advice for any discussion, on line or not. ‘Flame Wars’ spring from the old irregular verb theory (I am forthright, you are stubborn, he is pig-headed) and from love of that old idol – self.

    I would give another piece of simple advice: avoid the term ‘IMHO’. It is a sure sign that ones opinion is anything but humble. Also ‘FWIW’ – ‘it’ usually isn’t worth anything!


    Marie Marshall

  71. Pinky says:

    Very smart. I usually just precede my arguments with “Please don’t get mad, but…

  72. MkMiku says:

    I hope more people read this article, so they can learn how to have a proper argument on the Internet.

  73. Hafsa K says:

    Personally, I try to avoid all such kinds of situation, and if I do ever get in one, I try to be as respectful as I can!
    Great and much needed advice!

  74. That post is pretty interesting. Thanks for the advice! Will be using it next time and congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  75. eyeonwales says:

    Indeed, online debating is a painful experience. Annonymity just seems to allow people to bury their heads in the ground and ignore any coherent responses to debates. Often you can get in logical sane response before ignorance, or a general inability to read the content of the post above, kicks in and the usual decent into slanging begins. Frustrating thing the internet!

  76. Bill Davis says:

    Excellent post. Thanks for that. Check out the Neofuturists’ “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes” for another funny spin on arguments (or go way back to Monty Python’s “Is This The Room For An Argument?”

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  78. Yasir Imran says:

    That’s true, responses on the internet are like that. And there is no guarantee the info someone is providing is correct.

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  80. That’s great advice, unfortunately not everyone gets it. Some people argue irrationally on the internet; they digress from the main topic of the article to discuss anything they wish to – venting anger, criticizing policies, anything BUT the actual topic. I would presume that even if I’d showed them your write-up, they would still talk about something totally irrelevant. And this applies for rude emails as well. Indeed, we need people who work at being kind…

  81. Angie~Lah says:

    I wish I could learn to do this on the internet. It’s easy in real life because being face-to-face forces you to be civil (unless you are a masochist who enjoys being beaten up). The safety of being behind a keyboard makes us do and say things we normally wouldn’t say and do.

  82. xoxofrets says:

    this is reminds of the people how to be ethical 🙂

  83. Aisiri says:

    I encountered two idiots on Facebook who are arguing each other, insulting their nationalities and personal stuff.. I oughta link this to them 🙂

  84. I should be following these rules a little more!

  85. Great article and the points work with most people (from personal experience), but unfortunately there will always be people who do selective reading… Even if one were to write “That argument isn’t taking into account…”, you might get a silly response like “What does this have to do with my bank account???”…

  86. Daniel says:

    Well, careful phrasing is always worth a try. It’s probably a lost cause. Even those who spend all day being civil online in a work context will let rip given the chance to be anonymous…it’s half the fun. But a sad way to get amusement. Talk about the modern world levelling down!

  87. tuttysan says:

    How about taking arguing altogether out of the equation? I find that if I disagree with someone, ignoring their comments works best for me. Why waste my time setting someone straight. It’s America. They have a right to be “wrong”. 🙂

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  89. y says:

    This is nice and helpful. Thanks for sharing this. I should apply this strategy when ‘arguing’ with someone on the net, even though you really want to include what is written in your Draft 1 (“You Idiot”) hahaha….

  90. Shirley Williams says:

    Point well taken. Good Advice. You may want to walk around and have tea first- Just in case your finger “accidentally” hits the send button to early in your process 🙂

  91. Manali Shah says:

    Great post 🙂 People really need to stop attacking other people on the net in an insane way!

  92. Great picture.
    Made a bookmark 😀

  93. Very smart dissection of an argument. I wonder how many times you’ve had to deal with people having an “intelligent argument” who eventually attack someone whose post contains a typo or two. I can’t debate online because I see people on sites like the huffington post who inevitably end up sqabbling over how little each other knows, citing their inability to spell as clear evidence.

  94. Ian Lantzy says:

    People do usually take any argument on the internet very personally, and have good verbal skill can help reduce the risk of insulting someone. But deep down inside, don’t we all enjoy watching two people debating on the internet quickly deteriorate into a verbal brawl between two screaming 7 year olds? I can admit that I do every now and then, though I try my hardest to avoid become involved.

  95. mephitic says:

    That argument isn’t taking into account the fact that OP is Ghay.

  96. Leigh Binder says:

    The problem with this article is that the majority of people online don’t care about civility. It’s a faceless and (sometimes) nameless cyber-network with built in safeguards like the delete button and blocking capabilities. The latter allows for perpetual “I get the last word” scenarios…

    Look around the world…It’s hatred is getting worse. This type of post doesn’t help solve a thing or promote anything close to civility…Nice try though.

  97. If more people used this approach discussions would not turn into “slam fest”. Disagreement is natural but depersonalizing the rebuttal is important.

    A very good post.


  98. swamifez says:

    I am a new blogger, but this article pertains to me, it’s very easy to slam on someone’s wording. I know, I got kicked out of a university for it.

  99. bazel09 says:

    You do not need to know the logic to argue, but if you know a bit of logic you may be easier to find arguments incorrect.

  100. I argue like this most of the time anyway. Unfortunately, the other team is usually larger in numbers and of the ‘other’ type of arguer. i.e.: lots of profanity without reason, lots of accusations without any backing whatsoever, and things of the like. So I’ve begun to stop arguing with such things, because they go nowhere fast and quite frankly a large waste of time.

  101. phil4dhsg says:

    I’ve always liked that about the internet you can tone it down by simply reading it before its out there. It makes you wonder do other people not proofread or do they actually mean what they say?

  102. I like how much effort you put into this blog, how to see more like this 🙂

  103. Having argued in disagreement in the net for many years, all I can say is: striking down the words “too seriously” does a fair job. Neither my side nor others shoud. However, civility is another world. I wonder how boring it could be arguing between us. LOL

  104. Regina says:

    I love that post, for two reasons, one because it is quite funny, yet it is still to be taken seriously, which is hard to do. The other reason i love it is because that happens all the time when people are saying things on the internet, I know friendships that have ended because of a stupid misunderstanding on the internet.

  105. Ashley says:

    Lovely post! Too bad not everyone cares about carefully wording their statements and they don’t realize that lashing out is going to do nothing for their argument.

  106. Alan says:

    Thomas Merton wrote, “I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further.” If the point of argument is only to disagree, the words we choose may not matter as much as we would like.

  107. Paper Ella says:

    You sure do have more self control in arguments than I do! Wise people like you always turn out on top–thanks for the tips!

  108. Excelent article! thanks!

  109. Winston says:

    I usually only get to two or maybe three revisions. I respect your commitment to non-confrontational communication.
    Any time I argue with an idiot, I usually end up talking to myself.

    Cheers, Winston

  110. PiedType says:

    Everyone who ever posts a comment online or sends/replies to an email should heed this advice!

  111. rkmclaughlin says:


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  113. bwbonanno says:

    I’ve seen the comic before, it’s funny. I used to argue on forums all the time, and used to see these public forums become a personal battle between two people insulting each other. Hopefully, more people will learn to argue as you have showed. It gets the point across better, and is more effective in the long run.

  114. jrocsworld says:

    I dont argue, I respond by not responding when I think someone is being stupid or close minded in what they are trying to say… Thats just how I roll sometimes 🙂 Other than that, I can dig it!

  115. Yes! It really is possible to have a civilized debate. If charm schools were still popular, I think they’d teach internet etiquette. Great post!

  116. Maria says:

    Taking the high road doesn’t mean you lie and it doesn’t mean you don’t say what you need to. Kudos for seeing that and getting to the 5th draft.

    Congrats also for being Freshly Pressed.

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  118. I appreciate your rational approach to staging a debate.argument over the internet. It does, however, ignore the most significant problem with any debate/argument:
    That the other person may not be willing to consider that *they* might be wrong.
    Having been online since “discussions” took place on someone’s personal BBS, located on their personal computer in their own house (and, yes, actually *dial in* to get access to begin with!), I cannot remember how many attempts at a rational discourse on a subject I have tried to have, only to have them fall afoul of the other party’s ‘I’m right/you’re WRONG!’ mentality. The sad truth is, the Internet is possibly *the* worst place to hold a serious discussion about nearly anything. Without the need to consider the consequences of the words written in a post/email, with minimal restraint anymore on what might even be considered an “appropriate” response to anything, attempting to hold a discussion is something best limited to those one knows.
    Would that it were otherwise………..

    • I agree. Another big problem is people forget (or choose to ignore) the fact they’re talking to other human beings online. All social restraint disappears. Suddenly it’s all right to say things you’d never say to the person’s face. You may as well be talking to a computer screen.

      There’s an unspoken rule on the Internet — and someone actually said this to me on a forum once: you can do (or say) whatever you want as long as you don’t get caught, and you won’t because no one knows what you look like anyway. The person said this to justify being rude to me in posts. It’s a dangerous mentality to have.

      I’ve always noticed I base a person’s personality not only on what they say but on their avatar, especially on forums. Not a good idea.

  119. i think i can know how to proper argument on the net.

  120. Mudmap says:

    this is a great counter-point to a recent post I read elsewhere which linked to a facebook rant between a small business and a photographer who claimed he had stolen a photograph to sue for promotional work. Full of expletives, personal abuse, half-spelled and mis-spelled words and occasional threats, it was the extreme opposite of your (dare I say it) perhaps over-thought response!

    Wish I could email-subscribe to this blog – I can only see the RSS feed button.

  121. shil says:

    Your first response is how I always react on the net. After a minute, I regain my composure and I reply in a refined mature way which nobody can get affronted with. Most of the time, if you are rude, people attack your meanness rather than your argument.Oh ! I meant “the” argument. 🙂

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  123. Erol Emed says:


  124. thehonestone says:

    Good Post, words online definitely carry no tone and they almost always lead too misunderstandings.

  125. sana naz says:

    Good advice on avoiding that. its true and nice posts

  126. sanjaybang says:

    Really nice one!!!!

  127. curlailaf says:

    Your two cents is worth it! Congrats for being Freshly Pressed!

    I just grin, reminiscing an epic experience in one of my group pages in Face book regarding a hot issue. I witnessed virtual verbal boxing and word war. Oftentimes, healthy discussion is surpassed with an EMO debate that messes up relationship…friendship and working relationship.

    Thanks for sharing this! =) It’s more than a reminder. It’s a challenge! KUDOS!

  128. Every online forum needs to have your checklist in their sticky topics.

  129. gaycarboys says:

    Whether the net or text is involved, it is indeed amazing how things can taken the wrong way. It can be hard no matter what you say in my experience. My worst problem is not taking the time to correct mistakes rather than the sentence being misunderstood.

  130. CrisisMaven says:

    Ah, now, now, looking back on my history of arguments on the Internet (and beyond) I wish you were wrong here 🙂 …

  131. Evelyn says:

    A smart post to avoid word war on the internet.

  132. leadinglight says:

    Interesting approach but sometimes there are people who are in “I’m Always Right” category. With them, I just end an argument by saying “Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree” if neither of us will concede the position.

  133. I really do like this, because when arguing on the internet, wording is SO important. And this brought out points that I have kept in mind during an argument online.

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  135. kpbotbot says:

    Even then, no matter how mature you act, some people will still act like babies. Even in the real world, debates are nothing but people attacking other people and eventually forget what the hell they’re talking about.

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  137. underwhelmer says:

    If only everyone had the patience and maturity to make it to the 5th draft…

    With the exception of a few corners of the inter-webs, I’m reluctant to even read most responses in a public forum (You Tube is possibly the worst). Thanks for trying to shed a little light out there.

  138. Great thoughts. You help me think what to say. Usually, what to say, an excellent comeback to some tacky-mean person doesn’t appear in my thought repertoire until months later!!!!!!
    Thank you. Ali

  139. shai says:

    this is hilarious – exactly the way i put sentences together when i’m chatting online. great post!

  140. peewee_RotA says:

    Umm.. has anyone visiting this page ever actually been on the internet? Or even read xkcd? Emotional responses to arguments are purposefully extracted. IT’S CALLED TROLLING YOU TWIT! At least half of the internet currently exists of trolls. (in case you are wondering that was an example of trolling and if you took offense to the word “twit”, then it worked and you lose)

    Anyone actually trying to conduct a real argument or discussion is seen as an idiot. Even [b]your[/b] assumption that people can take time to think about things is wrong. The internet is a huge advancement in the speed and availability of communication. Anyone can chew out anyone else’s but on a moment’s notice and no time to cool down or think rationally is possible.

    That’s why this whole thing is a meme, there are probably a hundred memes invented to describe internet flaming and furthermore:

    Oh and the earlier comments conducting Reducto Ad Hitlerum ARE another meme about internet arguing. (invented long before the internet existed, believe it or not)

  141. Sometimes you are urged inside to talk st impolite, st sarcastic… It can be relishing!!! Feel like heaven talking st with a bit of acid on the tip of your tongue. Being polite and sweet-tongued all the time can be really really bored you to death!!!

  142. There’s a bigger issue here. This kind of “debate” is based on a particular class of a particular culture’s way of thinking, and this way of thinking is designed to prevent anything that is actually resistant to the dominant mode, or which challenges the status quo in any way. Parliamentary procedure, Robert’s Rules of Order, formalized debate all hinge on the ability of a group to mediate themselves, and then impose that mediation on others. You can read it throughout these comments, notes on “civilized”, “rational”, etc. This is most readily seen in the shift that takes place when someone challenges a dominant position, and they are scolded for “taking a tone”, or “being emotional”, or “not being rational”. In its worst manifestations, it shows up in (mostly racist) comebacks like, “know your role”, “he’s being ‘uppity'”, etc. The point being that it isn’t the how that is problematic, but the power differential that is hidden by online discourse. The Internet is not an equalizer, quite the opposite. We make the false assumption that a debate is even desired by interlocutors so engaged, or that people are talking to each other, and not at each other, or more likely, over each others’ heads.

    • New.Wayfarer says:

      Wanted to say your post caught my eye, and resonates with my own experiences and discoveries so much. But never have I read or heard someone put it so precisely. Much respect to you for posting this. I almost typed out a statement similar, but yours is so much better worded then I could of done, no doubts.

  143. Mitchell says:

    It is too bad a keyboard hasn’t been designed to measure emotion (how hard keys are typed, etc). Or maybe a color code letter system based on heart rate or something.

    But I wonder how many people would actually continue debating if it got all civil?

    Funny pic btw.

  144. Sugarmama says:

    Very thoughtful post. I appreciate your approach to temper internet discussions. I’ve had a few heated chats with my boss…now I have some guidelines.

  145. Nicely written post. There’s no question that internet posts, tweets, texts, and emails are often misinterpreted.

    Many years ago when I worked for a different company, I would constantly get emails from our regional administative assitant that were written in all caps like this:


    I wrote back – “Why are you shouting at me?” to which she replied

    When I explained that all caps is only appropriate for notes like “THE BUILDING IS ON FIRE”, I was later told that she became deeply offended!


  146. Evie Garone says:

    I think the commentor peewee RotA is partly correct . . . there are people out there just looking for a fight, it doesn’t matter how politically correct you are in your discourse though it doesn’t hurt to stop and think before you type a reply. I know that there are times when I read an e-mail that I take as aggressive that I immediately fire off a snarky reply but stop myself from hitting the SEND button for 24 hours and rethink my reply and tone it down to a much more civil tone. . .I don’t want to add to the incivility in the world! It applies to all forms of media . . .not all people want a sane debate but you are correct, we ourselves can control ourselves by not adding to the incivility out there. Also, without HEARING the tone of voice we lose the nuances, we can misinterpretate . . .

  147. I enjoyed reading this post! You make a very valid, positive point about voicing opinions via the internet – you can edit, delete and proof read to infinity!
    Congratulations on being FP

  148. Wow, this is excellent and should have gone to press a long time ago! I find the worst place for comments in YouTube.

  149. Thanks for your thoughtful post! I often get sucked into reading the comments section and then feel very discouraged afterwards because there’s not a great sense of civility. Sometimes it seems that people intentionally disregard another person’s point because they don’t like the example or the phrasing. I wonder if it’s because there is distance involved–we rarely know or meet the people we argue with. I think it gets even nastier on faith-based topics. I recently came across this podcast on restoring civility on public discourse. It comes from a spiritual perspective, but I think it’s relevant to anyone talking on the web

  150. sweetfatlies says:

    I agree, if you absolutely MUST make your argument in writing. However, most communication is non-verbal sent out in our tone of voice, inflection and even the look on our face. That is why I avoid sensitive topics via the written word. It’s too easy to misunderstand and frankly, hasn’t personal interaction been watered down enough at this point?

  151. carl brown says:

    Good advice I’ll make an effort to follow. Now how can I get the OTHER guy to be civil?

  152. great advice applicable even if the argument isn’t on the internet 🙂 congrats on making it to freshly pressed. well deserved 🙂

  153. kat says:

    Hahha brilliant! 🙂

  154. jekandsuch says:

    I think Don’t Feed The Trolls is also solid advice. Some people literally have all day to spend online heckling people and its good to know how to distinguish the ones who genuinely want a discussion and the ones who just like being antagonistic.

  155. xyzhasd11 says:

    great advice applicable even if the argument isn’t on the internet 🙂 congrats on making it to freshly pressed. well deserved 🙂

  156. New.Wayfarer says:

    I’m surely keeping in mind this article. Thank you to the authors!

    I’m sure others here have mention similar, but yeah, it’s almost like a there is a social structure out there, designed that all too often matters get boiled down to a power struggle, at the expense of integrity. A call-to-arms, so to speak, to take someone down on a personal level, as if to prove something. Scary what some will do, and say to get there.

    A time back long ago, I used to be active in searching to team up in humble art and crafting hobbies. I once used a community website intended to support all sorts of communities. I participated in a live voice chat within the site, one of them was with one young stranger, about my age that seemed talkative. I had also felt a connection to his style of work so I had to complement him about it. Immediately he was on the offense against me on a personal level vocally. I had to ignore it, and then he left. Shortly after, I had found out his reasons were because my own use of materials and style was different then his, he assumed me as if I were a threat; of all things…

    I recall a solution I once had, was to offer to communicate through private message as soon as I was faced with an unfriendly conflict; then I’d offer to work out an exchange for some solutions that both me and a person could get a fair trade to respect each other, and I’m just here for friendly exchange, nothing more. While It’s usually met with remarks such as “coward.” At the mildest, and the usual: “I don’t give a insert-curse-word,” etc, it would resolve some situations surprisingly pleasantly.

  157. Ashley says:

    I agree with some of the others… I admire how much thought you put into the Internet arguments. I wish I could think things through like that.. I’m impulsive, even on the Internet.

  158. That really is an extremely reasonable way to counter what someone has said. I love it. Now, I would hate it if everyone took your advice and thus started sounding the same, but let’s be honest, the word “idiot” will forever be tossed around. 😉

  159. You idiot, your blog ignores the reality of human nature! 😉

  160. You gave good advice to every one because this issue is related to every once life. Nice Post, Keep it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  163. Rashmi... says:

    Too gud. This is a truth, conversations on internet or text-they remind me the movie “Up in the air”-firing on internet, breaking up on text, and quitting job on text…
    But I totaly second you wen u say we should at least try our bit…bcoz all the things have their own pros and cons, then y keep condemning and not looking at what best you can do…
    Thanks for the great short post!!!

  164. I love this post. I would actually like people to argue with me on my blog and they don’t. Those times people have argued have helped me see other perspectives and have helped me clarify my own much better than I could have without the challenge. Want to comment? It’s

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  167. I totally agree with you. If only everyone would think before they start picking a fight, so much trouble could have been saved. 🙁

  168. Ah, I loved this! Sometimes I think that the combined IQ of the internet would reach that of a beanbag’s, but this blog gives me hope. Huzzah for civilized confrontation!

  169. Spruce indeed!

  170. rumpydog says:

    Should I be happy that so many people are concerned about rational argument, or sad that so many people want to argue?

  171. Cai says:

    Very good setup there. I’m going to have to remember to incorporate that into my many online debates.

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  173. Josh says:

    That’s pretty brilliant. I’m much the same way, though I usually take into account that if I feel like I have to phrase what I have to say really carefully, the person I’m arguing with probably doesn’t have the attention span to read what I’m trying to say. In the end, it’s more to please myself in knowing I said something awesome.

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  175. Word Salad says:

    “You idiot, you’re ignoring…”

    haha. This is usually my initial reaction to some “debaters”. But then again if I say that person is idiot, he won’t believe in anything I’ll say next. The respect will already be nonexistent.

    This is actually a psychological tactic. We should believe that the other person is smart enough so the person will act smart.

  176. So basically, you’re saying we shouldn’t say what we mean cuz then someone’s gonna get hurt?

    • New.Wayfarer says:

      Basically, it means instead of strangers throwing personal insults, and dehumanizing others, it’s to treat debates as exchanges of different views, and with respect for others. Even if one disagrees.

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  178. natasiarose says:

    Great advice! I try not to argue on the internet, but when I MUST (cuz the other person is WRONG) it’s better not to come off as a complete tool.

  179. ginacatface says:

    Nice to know there’s another person out there who doesn’t have the brain the size of a peanut :3

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  181. R. says:

    I have actually had to stop going to certain websites because every time I read something, one of two things would happen: the article and/or the comments would make me emotional and I would have commenter’s remorse, or someone would take my comment in the wrong way. Either way, it’s not worth the effort it takes to deal with these problems.

  182. Thanks for the advice!

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  187. This is sound advice. I actually keep a forum in reserve where over-the-top, highly opinionated, ad-hominem-laced attacks on trivial matters are cherished as good fun. If you ever feel the need to vent in a brassy, breezy way, get one of those. But in discussions where it matters, follow the advice proscribed in this article.

  188. Cool advice! This is usually my initial reaction to some debaters.

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