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Win An Internet Flame War
From Wired How-To Wiki
So it’s your first posting to an internet forum. You were on some band fanlist or something for a long time, reading and laughing and disagreeing, but never posting; until now. And you’ve written what you think is an intelligent, clear-minded opinion on a subject. Twenty minutes later, and you’re tearing out chunks of hair as a dozen people tear you a new net-hole.
Well, here are some tips so you can:
a) Recognize and refute these nefarious tactics.
b) Use them to your own nefarious advantage.
This article is part of a wiki. Contribute to it all you want, but please don’t start a flame war.
* 1 It’s All About Semantics
o 1.1 The Refutation
* 2 Insults Never Fail
o 2.1 The Refutation
* 3 Never Get Upset, Even When You Are
o 3.1 The Refutation
* 4 Make an Ass Out of You and Them
o 4.1 The Refutation
* 5 The Ultimate Refutation
* 6 In the Future
It’s All About Semantics
“Let’s not get bogged down in semantics,” is one line you will never see on the internet.
Here’s the gist: you can tell that on many levels, the person you are arguing has made points you can’t really refute. But, if you can slightly change those points…
So, let us pretend someone has just said something along the lines of, “I don’t like Apple because I don’t like their ultra-proprietary nature.” You don’t appreciate that statement, as you are an Apple fan. But, you can’t really deny it. What you can instead do is deny a portion of the argument. Your response? “OS X is based on Unix! That’s not proprietary at all!” Score one for you.
You could attempt to explain your point. You could create a whole second long-winded post about the other ways in which Apple is proprietary. That won’t really help, much. It just gives the flamer a lot of new opportunities to find semantical arguments.
Do not try to bring up any other point, but instead take a note from the flamers, and turn their own arguments against them. “Yes, OS X is so non-proprietary, it can’t be installed on a non-Apple computer.” Walk away at that point! Saying anything else allows the flamer to deflect your counter.
Insults Never Fail
You don’t want to be too insulting. If you attempt to be truly offensive, you’ll likely lose any of the support you’d mustered from the previous response. So keep it minor.
However, while you’ll be keeping the words that are insulting minor, you want to keep the frequency of appearance of those words fairly major. Wherever you can, throw in an “Idiot,” or a “Can you even read,” or a “Are you 12 years old,” or “Great spelling there, genius!”
Sticks and Stones will break…if that doesn’t work, sign them up for massive amounts of spam mail!
Now, one should never point out spelling unless mistakes occur frequently, and then it is a fairly valid point. The point of an internet insult is two-fold; for the insulter to score an easy reputation-point, and to upset the insultee to the point that it comes out in their posts. If they can get you upset enough, you’re more likely to make a typo, you’re more likely to start swearing, and you may get so excitable that your points ramble and are that much easier to refute. Which brings us to…
Never Get Upset, Even When You Are
So the person who is responding to you isn’t even trying to address the points you raised, but is just saying you’re wrong and an idiot. Despite your many attempts at reasonable discourse, that is all this particular flamer is responding with; and it’s getting to you. (This comes up with some frequency in political debates.)
Even if it is, don’t let it … or at least, don’t let them know it is! If the flamer can see their insults are getting to you, they’ll just keep at it. You must always appear a happy and cheerful poster, even when you feel like wringing someones neck. If someone repeatedly calls you an idiot for holding a certain view, then start signing your posts with “Happily an idiot!” As they say, the truth hurts; if you show you’re hurt, you’re showing everyone else the flamer is telling the truth.
Make an Ass Out of You and Them
But mostly them. This is by far the easiest tactic in the flamer’s handbook. Thanks to anonymity, you are free to make any and all assumptions you can possibly think of. And, un-thanks to anonymity, it is impossible for someone to disprove an assumption. Any attempt at disproving the assumption will probably just lead to “further proof” of said assumption.
Just like with the insults, the best method isn’t to deny, but to accept. Get involved in enough flame-wars, and you will be assumed; gay (if you’re straight), straight (if you’re gay), ugly, jobless, high-school dropout, small dingaling, lonely housewife, and on and on and on.
If, for instance, you are a male, and you have mentioned that you prefer women to dress in a more demure fashion, you will most likely be called the more offensive version of “gay.” So, you may as well start calling yourself gay! If that’s the only argument someone can give, you’ve just taken it away from them.
The Ultimate Refutation
Is to just keep at it. You know you are right. You know they are wrong. Keep cool, accept the insults and assumptions, and point out how they use these flame-war tactics while you continue to make your valid points. Pointing out flame-war tactics is the pent-ultimate way to win a flame-war.
If a particular person says almost the same thing over and over again, while you continue to make logical arguments (while also ignoring/subverting their responses), you will be able to wear them down. Because, if that’s all they can offer, they’ll get tired of repeating themselves. If you’re able to bring up new, fresh arguments that don’t fall into the above traps, you will always be able to outlast your opponent.
In the Future
IntelFlame wars are no fun for those involved. Prized technophilic author Neal Stephenson once wrote: “Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be –or to be indistinguishable from– self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.”
In the future, those 16-year-olds grow up, but unfortunately for them and us, there will always be more 16-year-olds to replace them in the ranks of anonymous social media.
Luckily, there are growing bastions of social commenting forums where hiding behind the safety of anonymity is no longer a safe haven for foul-mouthed internet bottom-feeders. For instance, it’s a lot harder to start a flame war on sites like Facebook, where the recipient knows your full name and contact information.
Sites like Facebook are the start of a growing trend. The internet protocols used to identify web users are undergoing a gradual upgrade from IPv4 to IPv6. Where the limited number of IP addresses were running out under IPv4, it is possible to assign a unique IPv6 address to every unique internet user, and therefore, an online identity that sticks. Perhaps those big mouths on the internet will get a bit smaller knowing there is nowhere to hide.