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FHM's Guide To Losing An Online Argument

When you're triggered on social media, try not to fast-track your way to a dead end
by Chandra Pepino | Oct 15, 2017
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Nobody wants to be the recipient of a sick burn in the comments section. Nobody wants to be told that they’re “tanga,” a “fantard,” “bobo,” or “madaling mauto.” And yet, in the breeding ground of panic and mutual hatred that is the Pinoy internet realm, fellas on both sides are clawing at each other like depraved animals. It’s a godless world of pomp and circumstance, with insults being hurled from left and right. Whether the discussion involves politics, Filipino culture, or even celebrities, we have a tendency to get more riled up than we should be (after all, the Philippines is one of the world’s frontrunners for social media use). But what if we told you that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel? What if we told you that there’s a science and a technique behind mounting a well-researched, solid argument?

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You’ve been told what to do before—but because we want you to remember us, we’re going to tell you what not to do. If you’d like for the internet to swallow you whole, here’s how to expedite that process.

Ad hominem

Definition: “Attacking your opponent's character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.”

Perhaps the most widely used logical fallacy, ad hominem occurs when you step outside of the topic at hand to take potshots at completely unrelated factors, such as the other person’s physical appearance, grammar skills (or lack thereof), or choice of clothing. Going through their social media profiles to find something to attack is a strong indicator of this behavior.

Cut it out: The use of ad hominem signifies that your intentions, whatever they might be, aren’t rooted in genuine concern about the argument itself. Instead, they’re coming from a place of pride; you’re using trivial insults to feel like you’re better than the other guy. Be the bigger person. Stay hyper-focused on the central argument, and ignore unrelated insults that are meant to throw you off.

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Definition: You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.

This is also called “false dichotomy,” and it’s best illustrated by the apparent online war between pro-Duterte and anti-Duterte Filipinos. Just because a person is unsupportive of our current President doesn’t automatically mean they are a “dilawan”; a person can be critical of both the Duterte and Aquino administrations and have no particular political allegiances. On the other hand, just because a person voted for Duterte does not always mean they are supportive of all his words and actions thus far. As Filipino citizens, we are allowed to expect and demand the best from whoever is sitting at the top of our government—because no matter what political party they are from, the President is a civil servant who works for us, the Filipino people. Not the other way around.

Cut it out: The divisiveness of the “us vs. them” mindset does nothing to forward mature, progressive discussion regarding the fate of our country. Instead of seeing one another as enemies, let’s realize that what we all want is a government that protects and provides for its citizens. Time to consider the person on the other side as an ally, rather than a bowling pin to knock down.

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The loaded question

Definition: You asked a question that had a presumption built into it so that it couldn't be answered without appearing guilty.

Let’s say somebody replies to your Facebook comment to posit this question: “Have you admitted that [phenomenon/theory/event] is not supported by evidence?” If you answer yes, then you’ve essentially agreed that your argument is not evidence-based. If you answer no, you’re still agreeing that your argument isn’t evidence-based—just that you haven’t admitted it yet. A loaded question is a forked road that leads to a dead end. They’re meant to entrap you rather than encourage a conversation.

Cut it out: When you ask somebody a loaded question, you plug up the discussion rather than let it flow. You’re like a gross bunch of hair clogging up a woke and progressive shower drain. Instead, try asking questions that will help you figure out why and how a person believes what they believe. What social context were they raised in? What experiences do they have that you don’t?

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Personal incredulity

Definition: Because you found something difficult to understand, or are unaware of how it works, you made out like it's probably not true.

Edi ikaw na!” “Masyado kang magaling eh!” “Hinay-hinay lang sa English, bobo lang kasi kami.” Anti-intellectualism runs rampant in Filipino culture (whether you blame crab mentality or deep-seated elitism, it’s there). When somebody mounts a strong, eloquent argument, a common reaction can be to shut it down because it’s too complicated. This is called smart shaming. The most important ingredient in discourse is the attempt to listen and understand. Nothing good comes out of skipping that step.

Cut it out: Make an effort to come to grips with the other’s explanation. Only after the attempt to understand it can you properly assert its strong and weak points. You’re always free to ask for clarification. On the other hand, when arguing online, let’s try not to use highfalutin English for the express purpose of sounding smart. Be efficient in your explanations. What use is a good argument when the intended message flies over people’s heads?

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Appeal to emotion

Definition: You attempted to manipulate an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument.

Kumusta kayo, mga ka-FHM? Appeals to emotion are tricky because they take advantage of a person’s emotions to solicit their agreement and approval. We all have emotions, so the basis of some of our most deeply rooted cognitive biases are based on #feels. When bloggers or Facebook page admins notice your frustration or anger towards someone, they can leverage that to get you to believe anything, whether it’s false news, unfounded claims, or out-of-this-world theories. It’s a strategy that’s been used by charismatic cult leaders and multi-level marketing schemes for decades...and logic is often thrown out the window.

Cut it out: Remember that you are an individual, and that you should have autonomy over what you choose to believe. We’re all part of our own groups and organizations, but it’s wise to step outside of those groups and examine whether or not we’re being swayed by emotion. It’s like when your SO repeatedly accuses you of cheating despite the astounding lack of evidence, and even though it’s not true; it’s frustrating that they’re letting her emotions get the best of them rather than sitting down and calmly listening to your response. You wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy.

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