10 scientifically-proven ways to win an argument on the internet

Warning: You will not change their mind

It is, of course, possible to change people’s minds through conversation. But the internet isn’t where that usually happens.

It is possible to learn in online conversations where everyone’s minds are open, everyone feels relatively safe, and learning has been explicitly stated as the goal. But if it’s an argument, no one is going to learn.

And since the internet is a public forum, people are far more likely to get defensive and dig in. We change our minds when we feel safe to do so. No one will feel that way in a debate online.

Best case scenario, you might feel like you had the last say or made them look foolish. Your opponent had a bad experience, and you might have a small ego boost, but that’s it.

That’s as good as it gets.

And it’s a waste of time. The time you spend arguing on the internet or thinking about internet arguments would be better spent actually making change in the world.

So why disagree online? I recommend you engage only when all three of the below are true:

  • The message is wrong — I assume you’ve done all your learning from first-hand accounts and peer-reviewed experts, not internet arguments and pundits. If you’ve done this, you should know what is correct.
  • The message is harmful — The message mitigates someone else’s experiences, advocates harm or harmful thinking, or undermines reality in some way. Truth matters and is worth fighting for.
  • Your opinion matters to the audience — You’re wasting your brainspace if you’re fighting complete strangers on their turf. But friends, family, and neighbors often care what you think and don’t want you to dislike them.


Today’s Theme

Mr. Mahnken has developed a theme set of four logical fallacies and clued them in a literal way. For example, at 43A, the answer to the clue “As you can tell from these few examples, Bings are better than maraschinos” is CHERRY PICKING. In logic, CHERRY PICKING really refers to picking out and using just the elements of information that confirm your point of view. In this clue, however, the speaker is actually picking out a type of cherry.

The New Winning

Winning an argument on the internet does not follow debate club rules. It doesn’t even follow Thanksgiving dinner table rules. Online, your scoreboard is your audience.

* If you define winning as “they admit they’re wrong”, you’re going to lose every time.

But that’s not how you win.

For good to win, evil must be silenced.

Epic, right?

Photo by cloudvisual.co.uk on Unsplash

You can not allow your opponent to believe that you agree with them. It doesn’t matter who they are. In fact, the closer they are to you, the more likely it is that they think you share opinions.

Worse, the audience might think that too. Your message needs to shut that down. Here’s how:

  • Shut it down: Every time they speak up with an ugly message, make it clear as hell that said message will not be tolerated. After enough, they’ll eventually realize they need to keep that thought to themselves. Breaking their will might feel harsh, but you’re helping to protect vulnerable members of their audience.
  • Speak your truth: Do not argue about the reality of the world. You live in different realities. Use the leverage you do have — your relationship, and their desire for civility. Explain how you feel, but do not bother justifying your feelings. Make it clear that you are not here to learn, but to protect.
  • Assign homework: Data is for people who care about it, and people who care about data look it up before forming their opinions. They won’t accept anything you share anyway. Instead, recommend a single, comprehensive source, like a book or a movie. That puts the ball in their court.
  • Keep it one and done: It’s a performance, not a conversation. Make it clear that you do not plan to engage further. Your goal is to shut the conversation down. Your opponent is not here to learn, and you’re not here to waste your time. If others join to further drown the wrong message out, that’s great. They don’t need your help.
  • Clean your mind: You have done your job. The person is still wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth your time to revisit the argument in your head or care about what they think. Instead, turn your focus toward something that will actually improve the world.

Let’s look at this in practice.

Example: You respond to your great-uncle Bert with this message.

“It sounds like you’re talking about “reverse racism”, which is widely known to be a myth. I’m disappointed to see you repeating such a harmful idea. If you want to learn more, you could check out or search “reverse racism” on Google.

If you’re interested in talking one-on-one after you’ve read more, I’d be happy to, but I’m not interested in a debate online. Hope you’ve been well!”

After your post, you turn off notifications for the thread and go do some work in your community. If he or others try to drag you back in, just clarify your early message, emphasizing that you’re not interested in an internet debate and that you view the reading as a pre-requisite to your next conversation on this topic.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

About This Article

Co-authored by: Liana Georgoulis, PsyD Licensed Psychologist This article was co-authored by Liana Georgoulis, PsyD. Dr. Liana Georgoulis is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with over 10 years of experience, and is now the Clinical Director at Coast Psychological Services in Los Angeles, California. She received her Doctor of Psychology from Pepperdine University in 2009. Her practice provides cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based therapies for adolescents, adults, and couples. This article has been viewed 32,320 times. 3 votes – 47% Co-authors: 11 Updated: August 4, 2021 Views: 32,320 Categories: Argument Skills

Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 32,320 times.


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