Fallacy Guide to (Not) Arguing on Social Media
Ever get caught in an endless media thread and wonder how it all went wrong? Let’s examine how not to get trapped into responding to faulty logic.
Social media's become the place to air differences and batter each other about the internet.
While discussing hot topics is healthy and necessary, attacks and shaming need to just go away.
Logic is King
I’ve witnessed too many times a discussion when neither poster nor commenter knows how to keep the debate from going seriously off the rails. The answer?
Rules of logic, baby.
Before you roll your eyes, I promise #logiccanbefun! If you know how to spot them, you can learn to navigate out of dangerous territory, your discussions can be informative, and you may be able to keep your friends list intact.
Here are five scenarios I’m sure you’re familiar with. See if you can detect what’s gone wrong and how these folks can avoid falling down a logic thread of no return.
1 - The Personal attack.
You’ve seen this one more than once. The knee-jerk reaction that launches a personal attack.
RUTH: I’m against green leashes, no one should put a green leash on their dog.
RALPH: You look bad in lavender, so of course your dog looks bad in green.
In logical terms, Ralph’s logic is ad hominem – addressing Ruth personally and not her issue. Really, how does making it personal move the leashy discussion forward anyway, Ralph?
How should Ruth respond? By returning focus back to the topic.
RUTH: “Which color leash do you find works best with your furbaby?”
Nice going, Ruth.
So when you detect an ad hominem…circle back to the original topic… without snidery. Which takes us to…
2 - Snark, you’re irrelevant!
Snark has become a favorite in opponent shaming.
The appeal seems to stem from a belief that someone’s knowledge, experience, education, or even anecdotal evidence, is somehow superior and obvious, and doesn’t even require explanation.
What should the snarkee do? Return the discussion back to the relevant topic in a winsome tone. Unless your dream is to be a professional improv entertainer, ignore the snide tone.
Gerald: The mountains are a better place to vacation than the beach.
Millicent: Haha, you would believe that because you’re dumb and, well, most smart people know the beach is better than the mountains.
Millie’s not only used snarky tones, she’s also committed the logical fallacies of appeal to popular opinion and the bandwagon fallacy.
How should Gerald respond?
Gerald: I’d like to hear your case for the beach. Maybe you’ll change my opinion. And then I’d like to tell you my thoughts about the mountains.
Nice going, Ger.
Ignore the tone, drill down on the details and express your intent to defend your position.
3 - Whatabout whataboutism?
There’s something to be said for noting outright hypocrisy.
Morrie: You shouldn’t eat candy all day, Chris.
Chris: Interesting you call me out on that. Do you still smoke?
Morrie deserves to have a reality check here. For reals.
But the fallacy of Tu Quoque, or “look who’s talking” fails to offer relevant data in most situations, even if true.
What should you do in a situation when you know the history?
Chris: Your comment about candy is true but I wish you would consider a smoking cessation program.
It’s all right to mention the history, but then drop it and lean into the real issue.
Pass me that Snickers, would you?
4 - When they presume to assume.
I’ve had this happen more than once, maybe you have as well.
Friend: When the facts are in, will you admit you were wrong?
If I say no, then I’m saying I won’t admit to the facts.
If I answer yes, then I’m admitting I’m wrong now.
This is a complex question fallacy, or fallacy of presumption.
How does one get out of this corner?
Agree in a way that doesn’t imply you agree…erm… like this:
Me: When the alleged facts are in, I will examine them and make a decision at that time.
Except I’m never wrong. JK
5 - When you run with dogs, beware of coyotes.
Scarlett: Waldo, you get your information from the Short-hair Canine Club, we all know they’re liars, so you must be wrong.
Scarlett’s using her prejudice against the SHCC to destroy Waldo’s position.
She’s got a problem. First of all, she’d need to prove that everything that the Shorters have ever said is a lie.
In Logicland, she’s committed several fallacies: source, association, and prejudice.
How should Waldo answer?
Waldo: Whether or not the Shorters have weighed in or not, I believe that the Mexican Hairless deserves to be a recognized Short-hair breed because they certainly don’t qualify to be a long-hair… What are your thoughts on why they shouldn’t?
He ignored her attempt to include him in her prejudice.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, y’all.
Pop quiz. Now you spot the fallacy.
Troll: I hear you raise goats, but they are bad for the environment. You should stop raising them, you’re harming the environment and messing up my bridge.
George Goatherd: Goats have pleasant farts, give healthy milk, and eat invasive weeds.
Troll: I think goat meat tastes bad.
George: I don’t raise mine for meat.
Troll: Duck meat is chewier.
What’s the logical fallacy? >cue Jeopardy music<
The troll is trying to keep an argument…any argument against goats going. The original topic is whether goats are good for the environment or not, their gristle ratio is irrelevant.
This fallacy: A vacuous truth…while it’s possibly true that duck meat is better for Trolls, this is irrelevant to the discussion.
If you said irrelevance, you get the point. Literally.
How should George respond?
George: Studies show that goats are a positive addition to agrarian micro-ecosystems in both Troll and Troll-free environments.
Good going, George!
He stayed on point, ignored Troll’s attempts to divert and deflect. He stayed polite, and for extra points, he found a commonality.
Now you’re equipped to spot some common fallacies. And if the discussion still gets you down, why not try goat yoga? Gerry would approve.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When she’s not trolling social media for faulty logic, Beverly Nault dabbles in many things including freelance editing, ghost writing and novel authoring. Former teacher, stage set dresser, pre-Olympic horse rider and big rig driver (of the RV variety), she’s seen a lot and done a lot except run from the law... well, there was that one time but that’s for another day.
Find her at www.beverlynault.com and other nefarious sites that may or may not be censoring/monitoring/fact checking even as we speak.
Beverly is a guest author at Truly Free Society.
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