Like many, I've been a bit busy on social media these past few weeks. Most of the time I manage to have respectful discussions, admittedly with people who are not too far off my own social and political spectrum. From time to time, I wander into murkier waters though, and it's usually on a friend's FB page with someone who could be a troll but equally, could be the friend's grandma or workmate. If the friend is like me, s/he will usually discourage insults and rudeness on the thread, but once in a while it seems to become outrageously disrespectful, and the question becomes, how to either end or continue the discussion (loose definition at this point) without starting World War 3.
I've found these phrases work wonders in sticky social media situations:
Fair enough - Although I try to avoid a win-lose discussion, this phrase communicates that you're not as entrenched as you first appeared, you can see the other person's point but you're not exactly changing your mind. If someone keeps hammering the same point after you say this, they're definitely in win-lose mode and it's time to move on. Note that it doesn't work when used as an eye roll, meant to make the other person look small or stupid.
Thanks for that - Without getting too touchy-feely about "valuing the person's contribution to the discussion", (and potentially being irritating), this phrase validates their point without necessarily ending the discussion in a win or a loss. If you strongly disagree you can continue with -
So how would that work in such-and-such a situation? - If you're trying to make the person see that something isn't workable, ask them to give you an example. You never know, they might come up with something worth thinking about. If not, you might educate them about the inherent flaws.
Sorry - It's very easy to get the wrong end of the stick or lose the thread and answer someone who has moved on to a different point. Even if they come back with a very sarcastic suggestion that you learn to read, don't try to defend your mistake because you won't be able to. Just acknowledge it and, if possible, apologize in some form. "Oops, you're right, sorry about that", works wonders.
On the other hand, these phrases might make you feel good in the moment, but do nothing to further discussion and can end up making you look like a tool -
Didn't realise you were an expert - Said to me the other day after I had posted one (yes, one) link to challenge someone's unsupported accusation. It was done to put me down and end the conversation but it only accomplished the latter. Dude, if you think one piece of information is too much, and "expert" is an insult in your world, B'Bye.
I hear what you're saying - While once the corporate phrase du jour in what were supposed to be conciliatory discussions, it quickly morphed into the equivalent of "talk to the hand". Unless you truly mean it and love the phrase (in which case write "genuinely" in there somewhere), avoid this phrase as it just gets everyone's backs up.
Seriously? (And yes, I've said it many times so don't even bother looking it up) - In nine out of ten situations, this means "I can't believe you're being so stupid", and obviously it makes every conversation more volatile. If you really want to keep the discussion going, and are genuine in removing insults from your side, just delete the word as soon as you write it. In most cases it adds nothing to the sentence coming next.
Educate yourself (or other phrases implying the person doesn't know their topic) - Okay yes, there are many out there at the moment repeating soundbites without being able to back up their comments, but most cases of "Educate yourself" I've seen recently are meant as a put down and nothing more. What about - "Where did you hear/see/read that?" or "Can you back that up?". If they can't or don't, then you've made your point anyway.
It's "your" not "you're" - Admittedly there are some insufferables out there who deserve a good slap down once in a while. However, since one of my mantras is "Insults are the last resort of the uninformed", correcting grammar is almost as bad. Unless you're actually having a discussion about grammar, pointing out someone's mistake is a poor response and rarely witty, even if Piers Morgan does it all the time.
If you're really into improving your online debating technique, experts at Cornell University have kindly written "Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions" which gives techniques for winning online arguments with grace.