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against trollingHow 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 the time. But what really bugs me are the people who make unfounded arguments and think that they’ve won.

You might know these kinds of people as “trolls” – people who will come up with any and all types of nonsensical logic. And then there are times where people will make baseless arguments unknowingly.

I’m going to be writing a 3-part series on battling Internet discussion trolls. Together, these make a toolkit you can use any time you come across a troll, to make your life easier. The posts are formatted for ease of use: you can quickly send a link to just one of the sections, to show what logical fallacy (or “crappy argument”) you’ve detected in the discussion, and hopefully raise the level of reasoning. With this toolkit, you will never lose an argument to another troll again.

Using The Section Links

You can share a link to a specific section in this article by using the “link to this section” links in the header of each section:

  • Right-click “link to this section.”
  • Select “Copy Link Address.” Some browsers may call it “Copy Link Location,” or something similar.
  • Send the copied URL so the other person learns about the logical fallacy you believe you’ve detected.
  • Done!

The ad hominem (link to this section 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 )

Ad hominem is short for the Latin argumentum ad hominem, which literally means “to the person.” The ad hominem is a way of discrediting a claim by attacking the character or beliefs of the person supporting the claim rather than disproving the actual claim itself.

From my experience, this is the most common form of argumentation that you’ll find on the Internet. Why? Because it’s easy and makes you feel good about yourself. Some examples:

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  • In politics, someone might discard a Presidential candidate’s suggested policies because he had an affair.
  • In gaming, someone might brush aside another player’s gameplay suggestion because he is of a certain race or ethnicity.
  • In academia, someone might ignore or neglect a particular hypothesis because the proposal came from a person of religion.

against trolling

In its most basic form, the ad hominem is little more than name-calling and flaming. Saying someone is wrong because he is a “f–ing idiot” is this fallacy in a nutshell.

The Strawman Argument (link to this section 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 )

The strawman argument occurs when someone misrepresents his opponent’s position and then attacks the misrepresented position – in other words, he builds a strawman that he can attack. By defeating the misrepresented claim, he creates the illusion of having defeated the opponent’s original claim – but in actuality, he hasn’t.

In Internet discussions, particularly those of a political or religious nature, the “strawman” has become something of a synonym to “logical fallacy,” but be aware that it’s a specific logical fallacy that deals with misrepresented claims. To be true, though, people will create strawman arguments frequently because it’s an easier way to combat a claim than to deal with the actual issues at hand.

  • Suppose Person A wants to relax gun laws. A strawman argument would be if Person B misrepresented Person A’s position by slightly altering the claim away from “relaxing gun laws” to “unrestricted access to guns.” His argument might be that if we granted guns to everyone, society would plummet into chaos – which is obviously not what Person A originally claimed.

defend against troll

If someone tries to misrepresent your position, tell them to discredit your actual claims, not the ones that they’ve created for you.

The ad populum (link to this section 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 )

The ad populum is short for the Latin argumentum ad populum, which literally means “appeal to the people.” This is otherwise known as the “bandwagon argument”. The ad populum is when you claim that something is true because it is either popular or believed by many people. The error here is that a logical statement’s truth value cannot be determined by its popularity. It’s either true or it’s not – regardless of who believes it to be true.

You might have used this one (or heard it used) when you were a child. My parents would often keep me from participating in certain activities and I would argue “why not? Everyone else is doing it!”  I thought it was a good argument back then. Now I know better.

  • If you’ve ever heard someone say something along the lines of “a thousand people do X. A thousand people can’t be wrong, right?” then you’ve heard the bandwagon argument.

defend against troll

If someone throws away your particular position on the grounds that it’s an unpopular or minority position, enlighten them with this explanation.

The No True Scotsman (link to this section 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 )

The No True Scotsman fallacy occurs when you appeal to a sense of purity or completion in the original claim to exclude all cases that may be possible but do not fit the claim. Here is the famous exchange from which the name of this fallacy is derived:

  • Person A: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.
  • Person B: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!
  • Person A: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.

When someone’s position or argument has been undermined by a counter-example, many will instinctively defend their position using the principle of the No True Scotsman. Like most of the popular logical fallacies, this one is also easy to use because it requires little logical sense. Instead, it just excludes particular cases that don’t fit the original argument.

defend against troll

The burden, then, falls on the two people to arrive at a proper definition of “Scotsman” before they can continue with the argument. Sometimes, people will confuse “No True Scotsman” with “Begging the Question,” a logical fallacy that will be covered in Part 2 of this series.

The Slippery Slope (link to this section 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 )

The Slippery Slope occurs when someone argues that if A were to happen, then an unwanted outcome B is bound to happen, thus A should not happen. It’s easy to see why someone would want to use this to attack a point.

You’ll hear this logical fallacy committed a lot in the political realm. When certain changes or propositions are made, there will be a lot of hypothetical situations used to argue the validity of a claim or position. Unfortunately, there is no way to test whether or not a hypothetical statement is true or not, thus this cannot be used as a proper means of argumentation.

against trolling

There are situations in which the Slippery Slope can be a strong point, but it depends on the warrant. If someone can positively demonstrate a process such that A will always lead to B, then it may find traction. If someone tries using the Slippery Slope argument against you, then the burden of proof lies on them to demonstrate the validity of the slope’s slipperiness.

Conclusion

This toolkit is all for you. It’s meant to help defend you against the trolls who will throw illogical reasoning at you in the name of winning. In response, you can help raise the level of discussion by linking directly to these fallacies, inviting the other side to make a better argument. As an added bonus, you’ll know which fallacies to avoid when you’re crafting your own arguments!

Look out for Part 2 in this series, which will be published in the coming days. We’ve got plenty more logical fallacies that you can use to identify and make the Internet a better place for intelligent conversation.

Image Credit: Argument Image Via Shutterstock

  1. Joel Lee
    January 5, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    As long as fallacy is defined as "faulty reasoning," I think slippery slope can qualify. Like you said, it's not ALWAYS a fallacy, but it becomes one when you cannot reasonably link the initial cause with the final effect. The more intermediary steps you have between those first and last steps, the more likely it is to be a fallacy.

    As for parts 2 and 3, here you go!

    http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/makeuseof-toolkit-online-trolls-part-2/

    http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/the-makeuseof-toolkit-against-online-trolls-part-3/

  2. Slartibartfast
    January 5, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    A very useful page to link to when demonstrating to someone online why their argument is crap. I wonder though if part 2 of this article ever got published. I couldn't find it anywhere. Anybody know?

    As for the discussion here on slippery-slope... I tend to agree with those who argue that this does not qualify as a fallacy. There is no proving a slippery-slope argument (unless the warned-of outcome actually happens), but neither is there any way to disprove a reasonable one. The ice-cream / divorce example Joel gave is actually a correlation==causation fallacy, not slippery-slope. As long as there is a reasonable link between the proposed allowed behaviour and the one others are warning about it does not qualify as a logical or rhetorical fallacy. The alarm might be misplaced or overstated, but it is not a fallacy.

  3. Patrick74
    July 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    The biggest problem with the use of the "slippery slope fallacy" to counteract someone who uses a slippery slope argument (as illustrated above) is that "slippery slope fallacy" is very much grounded in the theoretical. That is, yes, technically, arguments like those above can be labeled as employing the slippery slope, however the mass of human history allows us to often make such arguments legitimately in spite of the *technicality* that it is a slippery slope argument.

    History and experience can very much provide enough information to make an argument that might rely on a slippery slope proposition still a possibility.

    • Joel Lee
      July 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Yes, you are correct. That's why I wrote in the article that "If someone tries using the Slippery Slope argument against you, then the burden of proof lies on them to demonstrate the validity of the slope’s slipperiness."

      Essentially, it's not enough to ONLY use a slippery slope argument because the slippery slope has to be demonstrated that it is indeed slippery. Failure to demonstrate the latter is what leads the slippery slope argument into fallaciousness.

  4. jimbo
    July 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    How about the slippery slope that after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage that "social progressives" used the law as a club to shut down the longest running adoption agency (Catholic Charities) in the state because the agency would not agree to the leftist idea that a gay couple was exactly equivalent to a traditional male/female couple in the raising of a child.

    So are the foster children of Massachusetts better off now that the largest adoption agency is forced to close its doors?

  5. Joe
    July 11, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Yes slippery slope is a fallacy however In my experience, on the internet, it is more often used to dismiss a reasonable line of argumentation than it is used as a false logical premise.

    For example
    It is a historical fact that every time government has increased taxes government has also increased spending. The increase in taxes has always resulted in more spending.

    This argument has been dismissed in previous discussions I have had based on "Slippery Slope" regardless of the historical data.

    My internet posting experience more often encounters the misuse of "Slippery Slope" to dismiss a valid argument as opposed to those using it to create an argument.

    There really should be a corollary to slippery slop given that it is often misused they other way as well.

  6. wodun
    July 11, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Troll is a word with a meaning, a definition if you will, and it is larger than, "some guy who said something you disagree with on the internet."

    This article was interesting but it had little if anything to do with Trolls :*(

    • Yochanon
      March 14, 2015 at 5:24 am

      I agree completely. The author got it wrong, though his 'tools' are good to have around so people can understand when illogic hits them in the face like a wet flounder and they'll have a way to stand their ground better.

  7. TheManHimself
    July 11, 2012 at 3:41 am

    "...the liberals won't stop until EVERYONE'S human rights are respected. Where do we draw the line?"

    That's a strong argument, but I suspect they'll always draw the line at property owners and taxpayers.

    • wodun
      July 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

      That comment is full of win.

  8. JSchuler
    July 11, 2012 at 2:58 am

    There's no reason to single out slippery slope arguments. Just like any logical construct, if the premises of a slippery slope are true, then the argument is true, and if the premises of a slippery slope are false, then the argument is false. That's it. The only problem with the slippery slope are the multiple points for failure, but then other complicated arguments share that bug as well.

    There's nothing special about a slippery slope argument that magically increases the burden of proof on its validity, either. Each premise, regardless of the argument's form, should be held to the same standards.

    It seems that your real issue is with hypotheticals. But, hypotheticals are not unique or exclusive to slippery slopes.

    Leave slippery slopes alone.

    • Joel Lee
      July 11, 2012 at 5:02 am

      The problem with the slippery slope fallacy is that people use it to cover up the weaknesses in their argument. Can other fallacies be used to cover up an argument's weaknesses? Sure, and those would also need to be pointed out.

      I'm not singling out slippery slopes. In fact, if I decided against putting slippery slopes on this list, *then* it would become preferential treatment. The vulnerability of the slippery slope needs to be pointed out as much as the next!

      • JSchuler
        July 11, 2012 at 5:33 am

        The problem with the slippery slope fallacy is that it's only a fallacy if the premises are false. Otherwise, if the premises are true, it's not a fallacy at all. This means that the actual construction of the argument--the slippery slope structure--is logically sound. Rube Goldberg competitions the world-round prove that.

        So yes, it is singling out slippery slopes. None of the other arguments mentioned above have the quality of being true if all their premises are true.

        That's why I dislike the term, and why I think it should be removed from the lexicon.

        • Joel Lee
          July 11, 2012 at 1:13 pm

          If you keep reading into Part 2 and 3, you'll see that I've listed a number of other fallacies where they are "only a fallacy if the premises are false." For example: Correlation Proves Causation, Anecdotal Fallacy, Appeal to Authority, and the False Dilemma. As much as you would like to think so, I am not singling out Slippery Slopes in any way.

          This series is meant to help readers learn when a fallacy is being used against them, and slippery slopes are indeed a fallacy, even if they aren't fallacious 100% of the time. I gave that disclaimer right in the article, you know.

  9. August
    July 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    This is excellent. A tool for real discussion. Of course, it won't help to sarcastically brand someone as a fool for using an ad hominem argument.

  10. Ben
    July 4, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I've gotten so fed up with reading *any* comments after any news story. If it is a tragedy of course the troll starts it up by saying something awfully insensitive, or even hurtful. Then a bunch of "your (sic) ignorent (sic)" + the unyielding profanity. Aside from content, there are the people that have no idea how to form a sentence, spell 4th grade-level words, use punctuation. It just all pisses me off and makes me feel like the world is full of idiots. Although I am tempted to, I truly skip the comments and I am much happier for it. My pet peeve: "Your loosing." UGH

    • Joel Lee
      July 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Yeah, the comments sections on most sites (~90%) are absolutely terrible. I try to remind myself that they are mostly the vocal minority. There are still people out there who have brains--they just choose to stay quiet!

  11. Jerry Ireland
    July 4, 2012 at 1:17 am

    Your Links Don't work..How come?

    • Joel Lee
      July 4, 2012 at 4:08 am

      I just clicked on them and they're working for me. Which browser are you using?

  12. derpage
    July 4, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Quite frankly, the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them, hence, the saying: "Don't feed the trolls."

    There's no effective toolkit against asshats.

    • Joel Lee
      July 4, 2012 at 4:09 am

      Good point. If reason doesn't work, then there's really no effective response other than to walk away.

  13. Troll
    July 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Oh you can try to stop me ;)

    • Joel Lee
      July 4, 2012 at 4:06 am

      Funny. :)

  14. Jim
    July 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    I wonder now that there is a proposed law in California about allowing multiple people to marry one another is your chose slippery slope example still that good?

    You don't have to answer. We all know down deep that the slippery slope does not apply to the arguments about gay marriage.

    • Joel Lee
      July 4, 2012 at 4:08 am

      Like I said in the article, the slippery slope argument is often times a weak and nonsensical argument. If you state that A inevitably leads to B, then the burden of weight rests in whether or not you can prove that A inevitably leads to B.

      Since the slippery slope is mostly applied to hypothetical situations, that proof is often impossible to find.

      • The Monster
        July 11, 2012 at 5:28 pm

        "Slippery Slope" is not a fallacy.

        A proposes changing rule R against X. B responds with "slippery slope" argument that if X is allowed, so will Y and eventually Z. A says "oh, that's the 'slippery slope' fallacy, and according to this Joel dude, the burden of proof is on you to show how repealing R must lead to Z, so neener neener I win teh interetz"

        I say that the burden of proof is on whoever proposes the repeal of R to show that it won't lead to Y and Z. That burden is not a particularly high hurdle, because generally some other rules S, T... could be pointed out as the firebreaks between X and Y, Y and Z, etc. But that isn't always the case. Sometimes the same rule that prevents X is the only rule against Y and Z, in which case your standard requires B to prove a negative.

        Putting the burden of proof on A also forces the advocates of "reform" to go on the record as opposing Y and Z, and perhaps explicitly including language in their proposals to establish/reinforce those firebreaks, rather than getting the benefit of the doubt that they exist.

        • Joel Lee
          July 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm

          So if I claim that eating ice cream inevitably leads to divorce in your family, the burden of proof is NOT on me to prove that ice cream ==> divorce, but rather the burden of proof is on YOU to prove me wrong?

          Now that is just nonsense. You COULD prove me wrong by showing that there is a midpoint between ice cream and divorce demonstrating falsehood in the statement, but you don't need to. There is no reason for you to accept my "slippery slope" argument until I've proven that it's valid on some level.

        • The Monster
          July 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm

          My father survived two wives and ate ice cream. Your hypothetical slippery slope between ice cream and divorce is thereby rebutted. And no, that's not anectdotal, because you said "invariably". Had you worded it more carefully, you might have put me in the position of trying to prove a negative, in which case my reasoning as to who has the burden of proof would no longer apply.

          In every ACTUAL case where I've seen an argument "debunked" as a "slippery slope fallacy", there was ample prima facie linkage between X and Y to put the burden of proof on those who advocate repeal of R. The burden of proof you're demanding is already satisfied.

          What annoys me is that people can so easily shrug off what I think is a legitimate argument: "If R is what prevents X,Y, and Z, how can you repeal R to allow X, but still prevent Y and Z?" I say this as someone who finds himself on different sides of the argument, for different values of R, X, Y, and Z.

          When I say I'm for legalizing the use of currently-illegal drugs by adults, I consider an entirely legitimate slippery-slope argument "but that will increase driving under the influence", so I make clear that I consider laws that restrict the use of those drugs in conjunction with operating a motor vehicle on public streets entirely justified, and even offer suggestions for making such laws better suited to their task. I don't just insist that the burden of proof is on my opponent and leave their argument unaddressed.

          Now, if the opponents of change make ridiculous arguments like your hypothetical, it's entirely reasonable for the proponent to ask for some basis to back up the X-Y-Z linkage in the first place.

          In the case of gay marriage, we don't need to argue that it will be a precedent for polygamy, because polygamy already has ample precedent. Why, Solomon had hundreds of wives, and got a book in the Bible celebrating the fact.

          But the prima facie case stands that an argument that says "one man+one woman is an arbitrary constraint on marriage" has the responsibility to explain what constraints would be non-arbitrary.

          The advocate of erasing a line that separates legal and illegal behavior has to show where he proposes to draw the new line, and explain how that line will work out.

    • Max Entropy
      July 11, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      Having just read the very good article, I now know that you set up a straw man argument. The CA law doesn't allow marriage but can be used in custody cases.
      Please no ad-hominem attacks please.

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