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Internet arguments are a fact of life, and no matter how much is written about proper online etiquette 7 Netiquette Guidelines For Writing Emails & Forum Posts 7 Netiquette Guidelines For Writing Emails & Forum Posts Netiquette is short for network or internet etiquette. It encompasses the special set of social conventions found in online interactions. While netiquette is very similar to good behavior or etiquette in offline encounters, there are... Read More  we always come back to one unshakable truth: it’s normal to be a jerk 6 Things The Internet Has Taught Me About Etiquette [Opinion] 6 Things The Internet Has Taught Me About Etiquette [Opinion] Over the years, I've learned that the Internet has its own sets of rules and etiquette much like any other culture. Granted, I have also learned something else about the Internet – it's very cynical... Read More on the web.

But here’s the thing: you might be a jerk and not even realize it.

While it’s one thing to be mean and contemptible, it’s a far more subtle sin to be a jerk through condescension. There are certain attitudes and phrases that we all exhibit on a day-to-day basis that can unknowingly derail an otherwise productive conversation 4 Unexpected Ways To Make The Best Of Powerful Online Discussions 4 Unexpected Ways To Make The Best Of Powerful Online Discussions There are places online where you can find serious discussions that are well-moderated and more meaningful than the usual drivel. When you encounter such threads, how can you make the most of them? Read More .

So stop being a jerk. (I’m just as much at fault as everyone else.) The Internet would be a nicer place if we all took a step back and changed the way we conversed 5 Methods To Transform Your Online Arguments & Make Them Stronger 5 Methods To Transform Your Online Arguments & Make Them Stronger There is a smart way to argue constructively online. Take the help of these five concepts and bring your best words and best behavior to the table. Increase the value of your online arguments. Read More , wouldn’t it?

Posturing With Intelligence

Nobody likes to feel stupid. It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest guy in the world or just an average Joe who admits that you aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer: it sucks when we feel inadequate. On the Internet, it’s easy — maybe even too easy — to overcompensate for that insecurity.

That’s why so many arguments devolve into a measurement match between intelligence. IQ is often brought up as a way to dismiss an opponent even though it never, ever works. It only ever backfires.


For example, take a look at this Reddit user’s response to the question, “For $5 million, would you swallow a pill that permanently lowers your IQ by 10 points?” It’s a silly but innocent question that can be answered without much drama, but this user makes a critical mistake.


First, the user boasts of his own intelligence in a way that devalues everyone else. Second, he makes a mockery of average folk by bringing up the “perils of intelligence”: he’s so smart that he can’t enjoy the kind of entertainment that mere plebes enjoy.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if you have to bring up your intelligence at any point, you’ve already lost. It’s a juvenile tactic that only serves to insult everyone else, without actually proving that you’re as intelligent as you claim.

Posturing With Authority

The thing with authority is that it only has power when people recognize said authority. Trying to defend your point by proving that you have credibility on the matter is futile because your opponent(s) likely won’t care. You’ll just come off as trying too hard.


Anyone can claim anything on the Internet. Statements like “I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental disorder” and “I have a PhD in physics” carry no weight because they can’t be proven over the web.

But more importantly, it doesn’t matter if the claims you make are true or not. The only thing that matters when arguing online is that you argue the point. Anything less than that will be seen as an attempt to bolster a weak argument with unrelated details.


And when taken to the extreme, self-proclaimed authority can actually weaken the point you want to make.

Posturing With Language

Language is a funny thing on the Internet. Since it’s the medium that we all use to communicate our thoughts, some people think that manipulating the medium can make our thoughts seem smarter than they really are.


While language sticklers (also known as “grammar nazis”) are little more than annoyances, people who speak as if they’ve been chewing on a thesaurus all day are cringe-inducing – to the max. It reeks of trying too hard 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls The Internet is without doubt a great invention. Unfortunately, no one so far has been able to develop and anti-troll device that will help to make it a more civilized place. You might have come... Read More , and you will be mocked if you do this.

Strip away the snobbery and it’s glaringly obvious how mundane the thought actually is: “People are too superficial nowadays.


You also have folks who inject way too much formality into their words in contexts that don’t call for it. YouTube is one of the most informal websites on the planet, yet this guy types like he’s wearing a monocle and top hat.

Is it a joke? Maybe. Is it jarring? Yes. Does it stink of insecurity? You bet.

When you have to manipulate the delivery of your thoughts in order to make your thoughts carry more weight, it should be a red flag that the thought is weak to begin with. Don’t mask it with pretentious language.

Posturing With Maturity

In the list of “things most cherished by Internet trolls”, maturity ranks right below intelligence. But just as the “intelligence” cherished by these people isn’t real intelligence, the “maturity” isn’t real maturity. To them, immaturity is defined as liking anything they don’t personally like.


The underlying arrogance is easy to sniff out: “I’m more mature than you, so the things I like are better than the things you like. Let me show you the light.” The real tragedy is how anyone could possibly think that this tactic could ever be successful. It never is.

It’s a twist on Cohen’s Law of the Internet 5 Internet Commandments To Live By Or Incur The Wrath Of The Web (And A Note On Porn) 5 Internet Commandments To Live By Or Incur The Wrath Of The Web (And A Note On Porn) The Internet is a somewhat lawless place. Sure, there are various legalities concerning the posting and viewing of certain content -- including pornography and copyrighted material -- but generally speaking the rules that govern the... Read More , which can be summarized as “anyone who tries to dismiss someone else’s point of view has automatically lost the argument”. The core issue here is the dismissive attitude, which has no place in any genuine discussion.

Posturing With Logic

This point may seem a bit paradoxical. After all, logic is the heart of argumentation, isn’t it? It makes sense to point out logical inconsistencies when debating online. The problem, as always, is that this can be taken too far or twisted.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for people to dismantle arguments by poking for fallacies, rather than actually presenting counterarguments. The irony here is that pointing out a logical fallacy is itself a logical fallacy The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 3] The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 3] Read More .


But the real misstep happens when you fall back on logic as a way to defend yourself when the context doesn’t call for logical discourse. Humans are rational creatures, but we’re also so much more than that. Reducing everything to logic and dismissing everything else is not the way to go.

That being said, fallacies are real and worth avoiding. Check out our guide to Internet fallacies to make sure you don’t make those mistakes: part 1 The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 1] The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 1] How many Internet arguments have you witnessed? Or better yet, how many Internet arguments have you participated in? I visit a number of forums and communities on a daily basis, and I see arguments all... Read More , part 2 The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 2] The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 2] Welcome back to the 2nd article in this 3-post series all about defeating Internet trolls in Internet arguments. By using this toolkit, you’ll learn to detect when someone is trying to fool you with porous... Read More , and part 3 The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 3] The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 3] Read More .

Final Thoughts

Condescension stems from a need to prove one’s superiority. How can superiority be proven? By posturing. If you ever find yourself posturing for position in an argument, that should be a red flag that you may be coming off as pretentious.

It all comes down to treating people with respect — especially the ones who disagree with you! When you stop thinking of others as below yourself, you’ll find that conversations end up being more fruitful and productive.

What are the most pretentious Internet arguments you’ve seen? Tell us about them in the comments below!

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