3 things to avoid in online conversations


In my line of work I’m constantly looking at what people are saying to each other. It’s one of the simultaneously enlightening and often aggravating things about my job. Whether or not people agree with what someone is saying, I’ve found that people are a lot more receptive to their idea when these three things are avoided.


Absolutes are absolutely aggravating. If you have to resort to an impossible, convoluted or extreme scenario to make a point, most commenters agree that you’re standing on thin ice. Quite simply, there will always be exceptions to the rule — but that doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s premise is bad.

The worst is when you get two commenters who do this in the same discussion. Their back-and-forth can quickly spiral outward and drown out the more reasonable dialogue going on.

Not citing your sources

“What’s your source?” “Who said that?” “Where did you get that statistic?”

Commenters will halt a conversation when someone throws out a statistic or the result of a study without including the link or source. Always make sure to provide attribution to your information. If you can’t, try to find it — usually a Google search will do. If you come up empty-handed, avoid sharing the information at all.

Speaking of sources, make sure it’s a good one. If the source could appear partisan, people will quickly discredit it. The best sources are neutral and impartial groups. If you don’t know the way a source leans on a particular topic, a look at the source’s homepage or Wikipedia entry will usually give you a good idea. If you know what sources your opponent trusts, try to find information to back up your point from that source.

Name-calling and personal attacks

This is the quickest way to either end a conversation or turn it into a shouting match. Simply put: don’t do it. Your debate is about the topic at hand, not your opponent.


  1. Could you provide a source for this information or is that too difficult for your little mind to fathom? And you’re being so vague regarding extreme examples that trying to understand what you mean is like finding a microbe on the moon.

    Honestly, I appreciate your attempts to get everyone on the same page regarding proper discussions. I’d also like to add some of my own, borrowing terminology from classical fallacies.

    Argument from authority: I’m pretty big into esoteric knowledge, and one time a discussion was stopped short because the person I discussed with claimed you can’t know shit about the topic unless you can read all the information in its original greek. As if not speaking greek prevented me from understanding the nature of mysticism.

    Dismissive Ridicule: Rule of thumb, just because you can make fun of an argument doesn’t make it invalid. I always appreciate good satire but not when it’s used to avoid earnest discussion

    Other classic replies to be avoided are ad hominem, poisoning the well, guilt by association, tearing down a strawman and every other fallacy easily recognizable as trolling. This includes things like attacking someone’s grammar rather than their argument, skewing what they said into something easier to retort, or otherwise discrediting an argument for any reason other than the content of the argument itself.

    Unfortunately, when our own presidential candidates can’t even participate in honest discussion, it doesn’t create a very good example for our local youtubers to follow.

  2. Pingback: (More) DOs and DON’Ts of online conversations | social media rabbit

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