Have you been discouraged from debating people online and told that you will never make any progress with people? Do your friends and family tell you that political debates are only going to make things worse and you should just stop engaging with people on the other side of the aisle?
Are you starting to believe that what your friends and family are saying about Twitter/Facebook debates are true? I’m right there with you, or at least I was for a little while. I had been duped into believing that debating people online would get me nowhere and all that would happen is that I’d become upset and more disgruntled by society as a whole. For a while the naysayers were right, I did feel hopeless while debating people online.
The problem with online debates
My issue, I think, is that I had my political awakening early on in high school. I also found out about Twitter around the same time. During this time I decided that debating with people who had opposing views to mine was the best possible use of my time. It was ok for a little bit, but then I started being called every name under the sun, received threats of violence, blocked, and reported for “threatening their emotional safety.” Whatever that means. Keep in mind at this time I was 15-17 debating full grown adults and yet I was usually able to maintain my composure and focus on the facts and not on ad hominem attacks like my opponents.
This is something that I see all the time, especially on Twitter and Facebook. These political debates can get super out of hand. More often than not I usually see one person being way more aggressive than the other. I’ve seen a lot of debates where Person A remains talking about the topic and continuing to discuss the facts surrounding the topic even when Person B tries to distract from the topic and instead turn the debate into being about feelings and personal attacks.
It can become even more disheartening when facing a gaggle of unruly debaters. Often times the mob mentality can make even the most composed person lose their cool and stoop down to name calling and fallacies. That’s one of the main issues with online debates - it’s easy to forget that being better behaved and focusing on facts and evidence is more important than returning the other person’s rudeness and personal attacks.
It’s easy to forget that being better behaved and focusing on facts and evidence is more important than returning the other person’s rudeness and personal attacks.
Another problem is that social media allows for anonymity; people can more easily hide behind their screens. This kind of virtual shield can embolden people and allows them to be as nasty as they want because there are hardly any “real world” repercussions. It’s something that I hear a lot of older people in my life talk about. They usually say something along the lines of “back in my day people weren't as mean and if there was an issue we faced it head on.”
The problem with this though is that social media also leaves a more openness, it removes fear of consequences, and thus people’s true colors can show more clearly on social media than they can in real life. These bad experiences with online debates can discourage us and make us ask the question “are these online debates even worth it?”
The benefits of debating online
But I promise these debates are worth it. Not because of the other person debating, but because of the audience. The people watching these debates are looking at the arguments and taking note of the way each person conducts themselves. When I watch a political debate on Twitter unfold I look to see who is more poised and kind, and who has more evidence before deciding who has more validity to their arguments.
When I am on the fence about a topic, and I see an online debate happening about that topic I like to see who has more factual evidence so that I can fact check what's being said for myself. From these debates, I can gather a small amount of information that can serve as a springboard for my own research into the topic.
When I am on the fence about a topic, and I see an online debate happening about that topic I like to see who has more factual evidence so that I can fact check what's being said for myself.
Debating online when it comes to politics is a great way to reach more people. For each person, you debate there's at least a few more who are watching and assessing what’s going on and determining who is right and who is wrong. For example, usually, when I post an opinion on a public Twitter or Facebook post, and someone comes at me, I will get a couple of hundred likes and retweets or so on my responses and same for the other person.
That means the more the debate is shared, the more people see it. And although I have never become internet famous, I do know that there are a lot of people reading my comments. Whether they agree or disagree is not the point. The point is that more shares and likes mean more people who are apolitical are seeing these debates and can then look into the facts behind the discussion more.
So how should we go about debating people online?
With dignity, poise, and factual evidence. In a world where emotions rule every decision, every movement, and every protest, logic, and decency are the apparatuses through which we can change the hearts and minds of the masses. When other people resort to name calling and violent threats we can return with kindness and facts.
When other people turn to social media platforms to try and silence us we can keep going and not be discouraged. I know it’s difficult to remain good when bombarded with evil, but it is doable, and in the end, it will be what persuades people to find the truth and think for themselves and free them from thought enslavement.
I know it’s difficult to remain good when bombarded with evil, but it is doable, and in the end, it will be what persuades people to find the truth and think for themselves and free them from thought enslavement.
These debates matter because there are so many people who are hardly political at all and need an awakening to the reality of our political world today. I’ve been seeing a lot more people waking up, and that’s great, but there are still many more people who are still blindly following the normal political demagogues and current Buzzfeed outrage trends of the week.
So if we want to see a positive change in political culture, we need to continue to put ourselves out there, no matter how hard it becomes. If we can do this, then there is a hope for a future where people think for themselves and research for themselves instead of just believing everything the current culture tells them. So if you want to see the culture change, be the change. Start debating people online and see what happens, keep in mind to be calm and kind in these debates. Who knows, you might reach some people.