Updated: Sep 4, 2020
A major component of my English Education degree was the study of rhetoric, or, the art of persuasion and argument. So, when I graduated and entered the real world, a.k.a. social media, I was shook at how worthless my degree had been. Social media users employ a completely different set of rhetorical rules than what I learned in school, which, quite frankly, makes me look silly when I'm trying to make a point on Facebook. I'm over here using ethos, pathos, and logos, while Linda is using Caps Lock and exclamation points. Oh my gosh. I even used ethos in this introductory paragraph. Faux pas alert!
Obviously, I still have some learning to do about argumentative strategies on social media, but I thought I'd share my notes thus far, in case anybody else finds themselves similarly confused by the seemingly illogical argumentative patterns found on social media. When in doubt, just do the direct opposite of what you learned in school.
Anna's Notes on How to Win Arguments on Social Media
Introduce Your Argument
Start with a phrase that notifies people that you are about to express your personal opinions or, as I like to call them, facts.
a) "Soapbox Moment" or "Rant Ahead"...
Be sure to also say "end rant" when you're done, so they know.
b) "I never get on here but I just had to comment on ________."
This statement immediately gets positive attention because your audience gets so excited that you took precious moments from your uber-productive day to moderate the chaos that has, until this moment, gone unchecked.
c) "I'm sorry, but..."
If you start with this, end with #sorrynotsorry (counterintuitive, I know, but trust me on this one).
d) "Guess what?" "News Flash:", "Just so you know...", "Fyi...", etc.
They probably won't guess that a real zinger is coming next. Gotcha!
Repeat Words or Phrases Followed By Vague Generalizations
This is different than the anaphora you learned in Rhetoric and Composition. Instead of following the repetitive word or phrases up with fresh insights grounded in a central idea, follow them up with either vague generalizations or something to the effect of "in your face" statements.
Anaphora you learned in school (Lame, too "thinky"):
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair.
- The Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Social Media Vague, Abstract Anaphora (Good):
I stand for freedom.
I stand for peace.
I stand for old ladies trying to get to their seats in a dark theatre.
I stand for prosperity.
I stand for nothing that gets in the way of these things.
Social Media "In Your Face" Anaphora (Also Good):
I don't care what your politics are.
I don't care if you're smart.
I don't care if you're cool.
I don't care if you have money.
If you put pineapple on pizza, we just ain't frenz.
Know Your Audience
Civility is for "in person" conversations. Don't worry about it on social media, especially if you're right and the other person's wrong. You can even say, "I don't care who I offend," or, "if you don't like it, unfriend me." Again, counter-intuitive, but you'll actually make a lot of friends this way.
Communicate Your Values
Immediately take the high road after posting something highly controversial. When someone comments on it, just say something to the effect of, "I'm not going to argue about this with you on here," or, "since you are so eager to fight about this...," or "what's really the matter, Jim?" Don't forget to use gifs either. There are even some that say, "nobody cares".
Show No Weakness
Warning: Using Concessio to address points on the other side of your argument will only wake the Internet trolls. Admitting that you've considered the other side at all just proves you are some kind of Mitt Romney flip-flopper. If you're looking for some watered down, "gray area" discussion, get off Facebook and read a book, you non-committal coward, which brings me to my next point...
Destroy Dissenter's Ethos
Name-calling is totally ok. In fact, it's even considered an automatic win in some cases.
Don't Worry About Ethos Otherwise
I'm still pretty confused about social media rules regarding ethos, but this is what I understand so far:
a) You can take an educated stand on anything as long as you've read at least one article about it. The ethos of the article you read has no bearing whatsoever.
b) While ethos usually requires background information on the speaker, especially if they have
a Ph.d. or something on the subject, social media just ignores background information altogether. You can literally be a witch doctor sharing medical advice and people will believe you.
In fact, be warned, describing people's backgrounds is a form of "labeling", which is totally taboo.
Human beings are more than labels.
Human beings do not fit into some sort of box.
Human beings do not have to follow a narrative.
Human beings can grow and change.
(Not to be confused with name-calling. Again, name-calling is okay.)
c) Establish the labels/background you want to use to describe yourself early and passionately. People want you to be absolutely sure about your stances on everything. Do not stray from the narratives that come with these labels.
Reverse Your Logos. Sogol? No, Illogos.
Here's where your old school rhetorical knowledge might actually help you. Remember all the logical fallacies you memorized when you were studying logos (i.e. straw man, ad hominem, hasty generalization, etc.)? Use those! You'll get lots of shares. I mean, I've used several of them just in this blog post!
It's All About Emotion
Pathos is huge on social media. Feelings form personal opinions, which, if communicated effectively, become facts. You can liberally butter on pathos anytime you want shares.
Another strategy is to post a heartwarming or heart-wrenching story but only reveal it has been copied and pasted at the end. People will think it's you and will get sucked in! Or, post an emotionally-charged photo and then say, "I'll bet none of my friends will share this," or, "If you are American enough, you'll like and share". It's like reverse psychology or something. Brilliant!
Use Punctuation and Emojis to Drive Your Point Home
Punctuation is now a popular rhetorical device. Just.Look.How.Well.It.Proves.A.Point. It makes people stop on every single vitally important word on the page!
Or, look at how powerful exclamation points can be: I am outraged!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The only thing that would make that statement more powerful is if you just left it like that without explaining why you were outraged. That's sure to get the ???'s rolling in on your comment section. #amiright
Emojis are also considered a rhetorical device now. Isn't technology amazing? Check this out:
News Flash: Nobody.👏Wears.👏Capris.👏Anymore.
Bet I made you pretty scared to wear capris. I don't even know if it's true! I literally just wore capris yesterday and they made my calves look weird, so I made this up. And by clapping for myself, I employed "bandwagon fallacy" or, should I say, "bandwagon strategy". Bonus points if you noticed the "gotcha" phrase at the beginning. Isn't new age rhetoric amazing?!
I'm sure they've updated college curriculum to reflect these social changes since I've been to school. Don't worry if you're slow to catch on, other social media users will correct you immediately.