How To Leave A Convincing Comment

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

For some reason, I decided to write an essay that took on both anti-vaxxers and libertarians.  Unsurprisingly, I was flooded with, er, spirited comments.
Many of which sounded like total nutballs.
Maybe they had a good point.  But these folks left a comment, then came back and left another comment unrelated to the next comment they left, then left another comment with a link to some obscure site, and then left another comment….
They weren’t replying to anyone.  They just were so incensed they kept coming back with more information – but on the Internet, continually leaving stream-of-consciousness comments is a lot like that crazy guy on the subway who collars you for five minutes about how the Gold Standard was undermined by the Illuminati, gets up, leaves, and then comes back to go, “Oh, yeah, I forgot!” and harangue you some more.
I’m not saying it’s never happened, but I doubt most sane people will be convinced by anyone leaving twenty comments in response to their blog post.
(One guy is up to thirty-three unrelated comments, including “If Donald Trump gets in office the chances of all people of color being sterilized becomes a possibility,” which doesn’t make you sound like a whackjob at allllll.  That came around comment #25, which is just proof that you should stop while you’re ahead.)
(Though alas, there were three separate anti-vaxxers, each returning with a minimum of six comments apiece, each of which reads like a blustery “…And another thing!”)
So that’s Tip #1 For Leaving Convincing Comments:  Leave one and only one comment, unless you’re replying to someone else’s comment.
Tip #2 is be short.  The fifteen-page essay is something people are going to skim.  Figure you start with two paragraphs max, and then maybe expand to three if you can’t fit it all in.
This is actually scientific, weirdly enough. OKCupid did a study of what sorts of mails people respond to – and being a writer, I was shocked to find that “wall o’text” actually had next to a nil response rate.  But looking at it from the perspective of someone who receives emails, when I get a wall o’text email I think, “Okay, I should get back to them, but there’s sooooo many things to address,” and I mean to get back but then I forget.  And if I remember, it always takes more time than the people who I can reply to with a quick paragraph.
Wanna be convincing?  Brevity counts.
Tip #3 is go easy on the hyperlinks.  You’ve got people who seem to think that hyperlinking every fact lends them an air of believability, but in the absence of credibility it makes you look like a paranoid nutball.  You may think this gives you the appearance of a scholarly professor, but half your links are probably from heavily-biased sources anyway, and you don’t look like a professor so much as you look like that serial killer who’s got a corkboard full of pictures and newspaper articles connected by thumbtacked string.
If you’re making a point, linking to one serious article will be more widely read than fifty billion links.
Tip #4 is read carefully.  Before you get all outraged, read it again to ensure that you read it right.  If you’re going to argue against someone, be sure they’re saying something you actually oppose.  Too many people read a headline and miss nuance, and then wind up getting destroyed in the comments because, well, the article doesn’t actually say what they think it did.
Finally, Tip #5 is if you’re going to be a dick, be a clever one.  Calling someone an asshole is never going to convince anyone who wasn’t already convinced already – and hey, if that doesn’t bother you then you’ve shifted from “I want to leave convincing comments” to “I want to leave harassing comments,” in which case you should die in a fire.
See?  That totally didn’t convince anyone who didn’t already believe “Calling someone an asshole is bad behavior.”
No, if you’re going to be snide, be subtle: undermine their arguments, not the person.  Point out the oh-so-obvious flaws in their logic and how a man of normal intellect should have noticed that.  Unbury all the facts they omitted.  For extra style points, bring up their inevitable rebuttal and dismantle that.
But if you stick to the argument, you’ll do a lot better, because one of the core lessons of writing is show, don’t tell.  Saying “Ferrett is an idiot” doesn’t work because people don’t meet you halfway.  But if you take apart my arguments line-by-line, demonstrating my incompetency, then you have led people to the conclusion that I am an idiot and they will then believe it with much greater vigor.
None of this, of course, ensures that you are correct.  But the sooner nerds can recognize that “being correct” and “convincing other people that you are correct” are two separate skills, the better off the world will be.  Donald Trump is quite excellent at convincing (certain swathes of) people that he is correct, but he is lying 75% of the time.  Whereas the global warming people were correct about, well, global warming, but their ability to convince people of that is sub-par.
(As my friend Bart pointed out, if these scientists were persuasive, they would have never started out calling it “global warming,” because sure enough, every time we have a cold winter you have dumb people going, “Yeah, right, this isn’t global warming.”  The proper term, which they’ve tried to switch to too late, was “climate change” or maybe “your weather gets fucking terrifyingly erratic,” but too late.)
So!  Maaaaaybe you’re correct about Donald Trump using vaccinations to sterilize Mexicans and the injection internment camps that will inevitably flow from his election.  But remember, your being correct about this is not the same as appearing to be correct, so leave better comments!
Oh, and actually, you’re wrong about that Donald Trump thing.  Sorry.

2 Comments

  1. Alexis
    Mar 30, 2016

    I feel your pain. I posted one very sane, reasonable, moderate article about how Bernie Sanders supporters owe it to the country to vote for Hillary in the general if she wins the primary. It was even written by a Bernie supporter. Within ten minutes, I had an explosion of outraged Bernie bros leaving angry comments about Hillary on my Facebook page. She got compared to Joseph Stalin and Saruman from LOTR. I had to block two of my former friends.

  2. Natalia
    Mar 31, 2016

    I actually really love like 98% of what you post. (the remaining 2% is split between things I need to look up to understand completely and things I take a different angle on.) I don’t think I follow enough blogs with this much interplay between common sense and intelligence. You’re a wonderful writer and great at being direct. Thanks so much for the bright spots I look forward to reading!

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