On Internet Arguments

Arguments on the internet are often vicious and pointless. When people wonder why, the anonymity of the internet is usually the reason given, and the wondering stops there. Recently, I’ve had an idea on the subject that, I think, might describe additional contributors.

Due to the asynchronous nature of internet arguments, every response is expected to be more fleshed out. Any time spent asking a question and waiting for a response seems like a waste of a post. So, in a real life argument, one party might simply ask, “What?” in response to something the other party says, whereas on the internet the responder would likely make some assumption about what was meant and respond accordingly. This is one additional contributor.

This problem is compounded by a quirk of the nature of argument. There is a spectrum of ways to “win” a debate. For the purposes of this sentence “win” is defined as making the other person stop talking. On one side of the spectrum is the perfectly crafted, air tight logical argument, backed up with rigorous sources and an official looking stamp. The opposite side of the spectrum is an expulsion of gibberish and nonsense, incomprehensible to the opponent, and so, impossible to respond to.

The thing about this spectrum is that everyone hates to walk away from an argument feeling like their opponent used something on the nonsense end of the spectrum, especially if they’re not sure if the opponent knows that’s what they did. We always suspect, when someone spews incomprehensible nonsense at us on the internet, that they think they’re making a rational argument. They had time to think of that response before typing it, it’s not like they got flustered in the heat of the moment and said something they don’t mean. The idea of conceding, or appearing to do so, in that situation is infuriating to most people. As a consequence internet arguments are harder to get away from than real life arguments.

Just a thought.