No, I do not refer to the big lumbering creatures from fantasy worlds, but rather the Internet’s more unpleasant residents – you know the ones I mean, the ones that will happily insult you, lie about everything, and start arguments for no reason other than because they can.
It’s important to be aware of the miscreants who will employ a variety of tricks and tactics to try and hurt you. This page will highlight some of the methods used to irritate, frustrate and undermine you.
First up, let’s take a look at some of the logical fallacies they might use:
The Ad Hominem
This is all about attacking the man rather than the argument. It doesn’t have to be a string of insults, so it can be quite subtle and therefore go unnoticed, but it’s all about undermining the argument by undermining the person making it. The person making the point might be loud, brash and even quite unpleasant, but if their argument is factually sound, it doesn’t matter what they’re like. Facts speak for themselves, but they will speak louder if you point out your opponent’s underhanded attack.
Quite a popular trick. You might spend ages making a detailed point about something, making sure to provide evidence to back up your point and citing sources. Your opponent will then respond, not to your position, but to a superficially similar argument. They will then act like they’ve addressed your argument when in fact they haven’t. This can be very annoying!
The Red Herring
This is sometimes in conjunction with the Strawman. The idea behind this argument is to present something (a theory or idea) that is seemingly reasonable but is in fact, not relevant to the discussion at hand. A good example of this can be found in Creationism arguments, as pro-Creation debaters will bring up the ‘how life began’ argument to distract from the ‘how life evolved’ argument. The two positions may appear similar, but they are not the same.
If not A, then it must be B
Now, this is a popular trick, that cites apparent weaknesses in an argument, but doesn’t offer an alternative. I have seen this used by Creationists – ‘Evolution cannot explain all the evidence, therefore creationism is superior’. It doesn’t matter whether evolution can explain a great many things and creationism none – to the Creationist, the failure of evolution to explain every minute detail would mean creationism wins, though they wouldn’t be able to explain how or why.
Sometimes the troll is simply a blunt, lying arsehole. They’ll happily twist anything and everything you say, along with fabricating pretty much anything they want.
How to Respond?
There are two ways that you can respond to a troll. Either you can fight fire with fire – trolls don’t appreciate being the victim. They can dish it out but usually can’t take it (which is typical of the bully mindset). You can also just ignore them. Trolls crave attention – they love to know they’re getting under your skin – if they’re not succeeding, they’re miserable. It frustrates them enormously.
So, you have a few things to be aware of and a few weapons in your own arsenal now. You can forth and debate and hopefully have fun!