Imagine you're enjoying a neighborhood barbecue this summer, and, during a lull in the conversation, you decide to nonchalantly check Facebook on your iPhone.
Harmless enough, right?
Suddenly, you're horrified to read that your fourth cousin once removed has posted yet another galling status update about President Donald Trump with which you vehemently disagree.
Decision time: Do you simply put the phone back in your pocket and enjoy the pleasant company?
"Rightly to be great," Hamlet tell us, "Is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when social media screed is at stake."
After all, what rational actor engages with fellow human beings face to face in a relaxing social setting when they can instead craft an anger-laced argument on their iPhone?
The answer should be obvious — grab that phone.
Since the only wise course of action is to respond immediately to this odious post by eviscerating it in front of the person's entire Facebook network — co-workers, grandmothers and all past and present significant others — before you get started, you'll need to decide now on the right rhetorical devices to deploy.
After poring over Wikipedia pages and skipping all peer-reviewed articles, here are three go-to debasing debate techniques that are sure to help you in your quest to change hearts and minds online.
Personally attacking an individual is far more persuasive than actually engaging with their ideas in a substantive way. For example, after one of my recent columns, a reader provided a master class in public relations, sending me the following note: "You are a vile, inhumane monster." Although the epithets didn't actually discuss the merits of my position, they nonetheless immediately persuaded me to come around to their position. I mean, who isn't moved when they're subjected to name-calling and caustic criticism?
2. Make gross generalizations, always assume and jump to conclusions as quickly as possible.
On social media, you'll need to make your case fast. The mediums of Twitter or Facebook are not conducive to lengthy essay-long musings. So, for the sake of linguistic economy, just make a sweeping assumption or two and then draw an overly broad conclusion. For example, try something like: "You support the president's immigration policy, therefore you're a racist" or "I see you liked that video of Bernie Sanders — you commie!" Those who read these arguments will immediately appreciate your direct style. No one wants tedious syllogisms that form the basis for a well-reasoned argument. Rather, using sweeping claims and assumptions allows the reader to come up with their own evidence — or, better yet, to develop their own evidence-free prejudices.
Invoking authority is the perfect way to awe your Facebook nemesis into accepting your position. If you, for example, want to make the case for implementing a universal income, don't discuss the actual policy merits. It's far better to simply invoke someone famous. You might say: "Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook billionaire, believes in a universal income. We need it now!" Or "Tom Brady supports Donald Trump. Get on the #TrumpTrain."
With these tips, you're now equipped to win friends and influence your own echo chamber. So as social media debates heat up this summer, you can stay cool by leveraging these techniques to win any argument.
Just remember what Gandhi said — always attack your interlocutor's person, not their position. And, then, of course, there's Abraham Lincoln, who advised stating your position in only 240 characters or less. After all, those lengthy Lincoln-Douglas debates got him nowhere (remember: He lost the bid for the U.S. Senate seat he was vying for in those debates).
And, when in doubt, always post something uncivil, and, who knows, soon enough you may become a talking head on cable news.