This is the second in a three-part series devoted to helping your voice be heard in a public online setting such as a blog or forum.
In part 1, we covered The Soapbox–
Define your purpose, think through, research; Organize your points, avoid logical fallacies, admit when you do not have iron-clad proof; Respectfully acknowledge those who may disagree; Proofread for grammar and spelling. Now for…
Part 2: The Snappy Comeback (Disagreeing With an Opinion Post)
So, suppose you read an opinion piece that ticks you off. You want to put the author in his or her place, so you respond with a comment. I promise, no one will take you seriously if all you say is “Your stupid.” This is only partly because the word “your” is misused; it is a possessive. (What you really mean is “you’re” which is short for “you are.” If you start a sentence with the words “Your stupid” the reader expects the sentence to go on, such as “Your stupid cat bit my hand,” or some such.) But the main reason no one will take your comment seriously is that name-calling never inspires respect. In fact, attacking the person rather than addressing the text itself is irrelevant and constitutes another logical fallacy, called the “Genetic Fallacy.” (According to Logicalfallacies.info, this fallacy “is committed when an idea is either accepted or rejected because of its source, rather than its merit.”) So how should you approach your counter-argument? Here again are my recommendations.
1. Read the post carefully to be sure you understand what the writer is saying. Otherwise you risk blasting away at the wrong target, like Tipper and the skunk or, if you remember SNL from the 70s, Emily Littella. (Hint: all her rants petered out with “Oh … never mind.”)
2. Give the author the benefit of the doubt (don’t judge motives or intelligence). Address the issue; you will not win a hearing if you just curse or even criticize the author. (On a related note, the “special characters” kind of hinted profanity shows only that you are coordinated enough to press “Shift” and a number key at the same time.) Regardless of the claim, the author must have some reason, however misguided, for making it. UNLESS the person is just trying to gain attention by raising a storm of controversy. If you have any reason to suspect that is the case, don’t even waste your time responding. That, as one of my Company Girls friends pointed out, is what the “Delete” button is for.
3. Organize your response point-by-point to be sure your counter-statements are relevant to the issue and clearly connected to the claims in the original post. Most logical fallacies are attempts to bring evidence that is not truly relevant to the claim…
Original post: “Candidate X has a proven track record.”
Irrelevant rebuttal: “Candidate Y is a snazzier dresser.”
Better rebuttal: “Candidate X has a great track record in his industry, but that experience is not related to the post he seeks. Candidate Y has 10 years of experience in this specific line of work.”
4. Beware! Avoid a common logical fallacy of responders, which is to assume that an author’s faulty logic proves his claim or opinion is also wrong. (It’s called the “Fallacist’s Fallacy.) For instance, suppose someone writes that:
A) All that glitters is not gold.
B) My engagement ring glitters. Therefore,
C) My engagement ring is not gold.
This author’s logic is flawed. She has not proven that her engagement ring is not gold. BUT that does not necessarily mean that the ring IS gold. Poor logic does not affect the truth of the original claim. That is one reason why…
5. …You might want to point out any factual errors or flaws in logic by phrasing your response as a question: “Your evidence appears flawed because your fact (A) means only that some glittery things are not gold, not that none of them are. Real gold clearly does, in fact, glitter. Have you made other tests, such as having your ring appraised, to determine whether or not it is gold?” Again, using a question rather than a cannonball shows respect for the author and allows for the exchange of ideas.
6. Proofread for grammar and spelling so you don’t sound illiterate.
Thanks for reading! I welcome your comments.
Next: The Skeleton Closet (Posting About Family)