Web Culture

How To Respond To Fallacious Arguments On The Internet [Stuff to Watch]

Tim Brookes 17-03-2015

You should already know that arguing on the Internet is a fruitless endeavor that’s likely to raise your blood pressure, but sometimes you absolutely have to make your point. We get that.

But how often is your (naturally well-worded and kind-mannered) argument rebutted with an attack on your character, or a seemingly nonsensical comparison? Wouldn’t it be great if you could deflect these fallacious arguments while enlightening your detractors as to why their challenge falls short?

Well, with the help of these eight videos addressing common fallacies online, you can!

A Guide To Modern Fallacies

Debate club members and law students aside, there are a lot of problems with the way people argue on the Internet 10 Controversial Topics On Wikipedia Guaranteed To Spark A Debate One way to measure the level of controversy attached to different subjects on Wikipedia is to track the number of reverts that take place. The authors of a study at Cornell University in New York... Read More . You’ve probably lost track of how many times you’ve told someone to “never read the comments” without giving it a second thought as to why. Is it because other peoples opinions are really that bad?

How To Respond To Fallacious Arguments On The Internet [Stuff to Watch] facepalmProbably not. Other people’s opinions aren’t worse than yours, but it’s often the inability to listen to bad arguments that makes comment sections so painful to read. Whenever someone does put forward a compelling point of view that challenges the status quo, they’re so often shot down by one of these dominant logical fallacies – and the point is lost.

The next time this happens to you, you can just post a link to one of these videos instead. Consider it a public service.

The Strawman Fallacy

Quite possibly the most common point of contention you will find online, the strawman is an attempt (be it intentional or otherwise) to simplify an argument, so that it can be more easily defeated. This includes taking facts or figures out of context and even completely bypassing the existing argument by oversimplifying something entirely.

The Ad Hominem Fallacy

Ad hominem attacks are also par for the course in Internet comment sections, just as they are in the political world. Put simply, an ad hominem attack would generally ignore the primary argument and attack the person making the argument instead – thus suggesting that their point of views are wrong because of some apparent character flaw.

The Black and White Fallacy

Also known as a false dichotomy or false dilemma, the black and white fallacy rears its ugly head when a limited range of options are presented as being the only options. One example would be to suggest that wanting more of one thing would mean that you would — by erroneous definition — want less of something else. These two matters of argument are frequently non-inclusive.

Moving The Goal Posts Fallacy

As the football-inspired name might suggest, this fallacious route of argument involves changing the “win condition” of an argument constantly so that a particular viewpoint cannot be defeated. If you’re arguing against someone doing this, you’re very much unlikely to “win” – they will attempt to find some way of rendering your point impossible to prove. You should just show them this video instead.

The Fallacy Fallacy

The fallacy fallacy is a bit like the ad hominem fallacy, in that it relates to the individual making the claim directly. It supposes that if this person themselves has committed a fallacy in drawing their conclusions, that their conclusions must therefore be incorrect. This isn’t true – even though someone’s argument may be constructed using fallacious means, the conclusions could still be correct.

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

The Texas sharpshooter fallacy reverses the roles of cause and effect, where an argument is constructed and subsequently confirmed using the same information. The name is derived from a story about a Texan shooting at the side of a barn, who then gets up and paints his targets on the wall to give the illusion that he has great aim.

The Authority Fallacy

The authority fallacy places supposition on the fact that because someone in a supposed position of power said it, it must be true. This doesn’t necessarily relate to those in positions of established authority, but those frequently perceived to have authority — like friends, family or respected figures who lack the expert field knowledge to back up their claims.

The “No True Scotsman” Fallacy

This fallacy is pretty much used as an exclusionary tactic, and its name derives from the idea that a universal set of principles applies to one category of thing (actor, video game, musician), and if one challenges this belief then they cannot truly be that which they claim. Frequently the “rules” laid out in this fallacy are entirely subjective, like the belief that “no true Scotsman” could ever commit a violent act.

About PBS

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured the PBS Ideas Channel for Stuff to Watch. Public broadcasters around the world frequently produce some of the best terrestrial and digital content, and America’s PBS have put some serious new media emphasis on the digital side of things. The broadcaster is also responsible for the sciencey It’s Okay To Be Smart, which answers burning questions like why does rain smell and what happens to ecosystems if apex predators suddenly disappear. PBS Digital also produce the visually-engaging CrashCourse, which not so long ago highlighted 13.8 billion years of history within one single video. Their latest efforts include the astronomically-inclined Space Time, which focuses on matters of the cosmos and little else.

Seeing as YouTube has taken on the role of babysitter, classroom attendant, procrastination station and cornerstone of modern entertainment; the more digital content PBS produces, the better.

What’s your favourite educational YouTube channel?

Image credit: Wrong Way! (Richard Elzey)

Related topics: Online Commenting, Stuff to Watch, YouTube.

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  1. GSystems
    March 27, 2015 at 1:08 am

    Great, informative, funny article at the least; funny because many of the latest "counterarguments" I've seen have been ad hominem.

    Either I'm getting better at making my points, the country is getting less intellectual, or I really am a "piece of shit who should die" (or a combination thereof)...

  2. Hagar
    March 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    I'm breaking up he snapped

  3. dragonmouth
    March 17, 2015 at 11:33 am

    A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side
    Joseph Addison, English poet and essayist (1672-1719)