Late last year I wrote about my ‘yearly theme’ that I dubbed Year of Distillation. This theme included whittling down as much as possible the time that I spend mindlessly on YouTube, Twitter, and even Mastodon to a degree. I also wanted to spend more time reading and writing. Generally, I wanted to move from a passive state to an active one.
This move to more active modes of entertainment has allowed me to clarify some things in my head. Of course not many people make these changes in their lives permanently for the first time, so I’ve slipped a little lately. With that I’ve started noticing some patterns in my old behaviour now that it’s rearing its head once again.
One of those patterns was simply arguing with people on social media for stupid things that, firstly, had little control over, and, secondly, had little effect on my day to day life. I’d find myself in these long threads going back and forth about useless shit. In the end, I’d leave the debate feeling like I had wasted my time. I couldn’t help myself until I read a post on reddit lately that clarified something in my mind.
I’ll be going over that and expanding on that post here.
Of course this part here is self-serving in that I’m really just telling you what lead up to this clarity. The post on reddit went something along the lines of: “Arguing online with people on many fronts is pointless, especially with how little impact you’re really making.” It was with this post that I was able to start catching myself before I actually reply to someone.
This allowed me to notice more underlying and subconscious behaviours. I started to catch myself searching for the bad. I would look at the explore topics on Twitter, searching for bigs to argue with or try to find some comment contradicting the premise of a YouTube video. Ultimately, these threads and debates would resurface from time to time in my conscious mind. These so-called “terrible people” were living in my head rent-free. Of course, really these people are not terrible; they’re just not communicating with positive intent.
There’s one common thread that connects all these comments and debates: communication in bad faith. Communicating in bad faith looks like a few things.
Surely you’ve seen it in the past where someone just claims to be “owning the libs” in their debate threads while completely ignoring the person they were responding to. Debates are, for these people, often a chance to compete or to one-up someone.
In the end this is really just someone who intends to put on a performance. Make no mistake, this person honestly thinks that they are superior to the person that they’re debating, and they had no intent of seeing eye to eye.
You’re not the same as me. You’re a different breed, a different species almost. If you’re a liberal then of course you believe XYZ thing and there’s no way that we can agree on anything. If I find myself agreeing with you then I’m just like you. I can cede no ground for to cede ground is to validate your entire being, or at least what I believe you to be.
_Aside:_There have been so many times where I’ve been criticized to be the opposite of what I believe myself to be politically. If I believe XYZ then I must be a liberal entirely. If I believe ABC, then I must be a conservative, surely. It just goes to show how deep the tribalism runs when enough conditioning occurs.
Of course most of these debates end up devolving into a barrage of insults. You’re a pussy because you can’t come up with an argument clever enough to counter me (this is usually following your expression of no longer wanting to debate the topic). If you’re not a pussy, then you’re an asshole. If you’re not a nazi, then you’re at the very least a racist. Usually this is one of the clearest indications that its pointless to continue the debate. The person is attacking you at this point, no longer attacking your arguments.
The result of all these debates, especially the ones that include the clear indicators of bad faith communications, is frustration. Either you’re frustrated with yourself for being sucked into a counterproductive and meaningless thread of conversation. Or, you’re frustrated at the other person for being, excuse my language, a dickbag. Nobody leaves these threads feeling like they accomplished something; quite the opposite in fact.
Usually what’s actually been accomplished here is the reinforcement of beliefs. You were no closer to convincing the other person of your beliefs than when the debate started. Because of course a conservative would believe such hogwash, and of course all conservatives believe such hogwash. So I best be on the lookout for this hogwash, for there be conservitards afoot! These damn conspiracy theorists!
Of course, when you argue with a conspiracy theorist, you’re validating those beliefs, in essence. If you debate the merits of a conspiracy theory, then you’re entertaining the possibility that these conspiracy theories may have merit. You’d be better off simply ignoring such conspiracies.
Why is that?
By interacting you’re doing three things:
- Like just mentioned, you’re indicating you think there may be merit in the theory
- You’re elevating the conversation, bringing further attention to it. Twitter will show your followers the replies that you’ve made to someone from time to time, which will bring more eyeballs to it.
- You’re simply wasting your time. If this person believes XYZ conspiracy theory, then they’ve likely gone off the deep end where logic breeds to die. Flat earthers do not come to logical conclusion without logical fallacy, for example.
The most damning case, however, against twitter debates is that they usually happen between two people. Sometimes a few bystanders will jump in, but that tends to result in dogpiling. If the debate, arguement, whathaveyou, remains between two people, they both leave the situation flustered, feeling righteous in their own opinion, and their opinion of the “others” remains unchanged.
Not much of an impact, would you say?
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
If you’re looking to change someone’s mind, or make some sort of impact, I’d argue that Twitter is not the place (though of course I wouldn’t argue that on Twitter ;) ). There’s a few reasons I would say that the inevitable outcome of a Twitter debate is some sort of devolution into madness.
The first reason is that short-form social media breeds poor quality conversation. It’s a casual environment where more often than not you’re not really expecting someone to jump on the debate bandwagon and even when you are expecting it, both parties are coming in guns blazing without true intent to foster a positive conversation environment.
Moreover, the format on many social media platforms tends to implicitly require instantaneous response. With the explore feed constantly changing, notifications being shoved down your throat, and the live updates of tweet stats (number of retweets and likes, for example), it is implied that what’s happening on there is what’s happening right now.
Lastly, on the topic of poor quality conversation, the short format does not encourage contemplative thought on the matter at hand. You have to express your side of the argument in 280 characters or less, lest you risk your thread diverging into two separate topics due to out of order responses. Without a more verbose way to express yourself (and notes app screenshots don’t count), you’re forced to simplify your position. You’d be hard pressed to include any of the sort of nuance or niceties that help foster civil debate.
There are better places to discuss the inflammatory topics that inevitably result in chaos. None of them are short-form social media. Write.as or Medium are two places that I can think of off the top of my head that have social features, but foster an environment for long-form expression of an opinion. A blog, for another, is a place where you can be encouraged to write in a more long-form manner. Heck, even Discourse forums are a better place with the org donning itself the place for Civilized discussion.
Making an Impact
First off, I want to say that any discussion around the merits of bad ideas is a bad idea. You end up implicitly attracting the wrong kind of attention and elevate the influence those things have on your mind. You invite debate on topics that you consider undebatable.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t speak up on things that you feel need to be said, but think before saying those things and contemplate whether they’re better off not said. Heck, think about whether what you’re going to say really even makes a difference. Always discuss with positive intent. What I’m trying to get accross is that we should try to surround ourselves with ideas we deem having an intent towards positivity. The more we surround ourselves with those types of people, the more we will tend towards being positive and having positive interactions.
Secondly, take the time to flesh out your thoughts. Not every instinctual response you have to something online is a good thing to say right away. I’ve looked back on some of the arguments I’ve had on social media and every time I responded instinctively, it resulted in poorly worded opinions, and sticking to a flawed position on a topic.
Take the time to contemplate positions that may counter your own. Is there a hole in your logic? Is there potentially a perspective that you didn’t take into account. All these questions can be answered the moment you try to expand into more detail on a position you hold. Sometimes when trying to expand we can even find that we’re not sure why we hold a position on a topic. It would make sense to figure that out before stating such a position, leaving a trail of bread crumbs that need to be sorted out after the fact.
It’s a lot easier to contemplate your position on a topic when you’re not feeling the implicit expectation to immediately respond.
Lastly, think about the reach your opinion or expression of such an opinion may have. Who do you think will see what you’re saying? Would those people have a problem with what you’re saying, and why? What would their positions be and how would you explain yourself to them?
All signs point to taking more time to contemplate the positions you hold rather than acting and responding with the rage induced by the hot take you saw in the first place. It’s far more worth taking the time to think whether responding to something online is even worth it before trying to get a one-up on some random person online.
Thankfully I’ve been more successful as of late in stopping myself before I send out a tweet or toot that I may regret later. I’ve stopped myself more often as of late as well from searching for the bad in a thread.
I want to focus more on spreading and discussing positive topics instead of arguing with bigots online. This post, is one step in that direction and I hope that it inspires you to see the light in the darkness as well.
It’s not worth it, you’re better than this. When possible, opt for long-form discussion.