Scientists think they've figured out how to win an argument on the Internet

Sure what would they know, anyway? Bunch o' ticks

Scientists think they've figured out how to win an argument on the Internet


The Internet is not a place renowned for being a healthy space for reasoned debate, with a simple statement about the weather capable of evolving to sprawling list of hate speech and rape threats within minutes. But now researchers at Cornell University in the US think they have figured out a way to win an argument on Facebook – so you can really shut up those idiot commenters with their notions.

The study saw the researchers work through 18,000 dissenting opinions in a Reddit post called r/changemyview. Over a period of two-and-a-half years, the subreddit saw users from all over the world express an opinion, explain their opinion, and ask others to change it. If the comments managed to convince the original poster to change his or her mind, that user would then indicate it by posting a delta character – the symbol used in mathematics for change.

According to the lead researcher, a PhD candidate called Chen Hao Tan, the trick to winning over someone from a dissenting point of view to your own is to follow these guidelines:

- Respond to the argument as quickly as possible. Don't be afraid to oscillate back and forth with someone on a post. However, researchers advise that the maximum number of exchanges should only be three or four.

  • You may call for backup. The argument is made stronger when it is supported by others who agree with you.
  • You will need to provide evidence for your points, of course. Link to outside sources.
  • You must remember to keep your emotions in check. Stick to calm and even-keeled language.
  • Do not correct a person's grammar or spelling. Do not just quote back what the person said.
  • Make sure to write a lengthy argument with substance, but do not sacrifice quality over quantity.
  • Bring up other points that your opponent did not cover.

The study comes with the warning that there are a couple of issues to bear in mind, though, when it comes to trying to win people over to your side; crunching the numbers found that 70% of the people in the subreddit were very difficult to persuade – and that many among these were impossible to shift. Also, when people could be convinced, often the arguments presented as fact did not hold water, as it turns out the Internet can sometimes be filled with lies. Or maybe that’s just what they want you to think...

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