how not to argue online

Natalie pointed me in the direction of this list from King of Bloggers, Seth Godin. It speaks to what does and doesn’t count as a genuine discussion online.

Point number 5 (about acting anonymously) particularly resonated with me. In my experience, anonymous — or near-anonymous — ‘drive by’ comments are rife on theoblogs.

I totally get how you may react to something you read on a blog and feel compelled to comment (even though you’re unlikely to subscribe to the comments feed or sign up to be notified by email about the unfolding discussion). I’ve done it myself. More than once.

But that’s a long way from the ideal Seth pins to the board:

Earn a reputation. Have a conversation. Ask questions. Describe possible outcomes of a point of view. Make connections. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Align objectives then describe a better outcome. Show up. Smile.

I really want to take seriously the fact that blogging is all about conversation — constructive collaboration. I want to respond to stuff I read not just react to it. When I make a comment about something I find odd — or even off the wall — I want to do so out of curiosity, because I’m fascinated and want to understand not because I’m frustrated and want it to be known that I’m right.

At the same time, as a blogger — and this will hardly surprise to anyone who reads my stuff even semi-regularly… — I don’t always produce fully thought-through, coherent or comprehensible stuff. I even sometimes waffle!

But, besides the silent majority who keep reading through all our worst moments, what I really love are contributors who care enough about us to discuss something they disagree with rather than simply sniping and then melting into the background.

What say you — Yay or Nay?


  1. Contributing on blogs is awfully frightening. I’ve had too many “did I really say that!?” moments that keep me from doing it regularly. Also, the comment section is a unique kind of conversation – there are many many people you don’t know listening in on what you have to say. I like to keep my conversations private, much much much less embarrassment that way 🙂

    But regarding Seth Godin’s 8 points, I found this one interesting:
    Go to the edges. This is a variant of the slippery slope, in which you bring up extremes at either end of whatever spectrum is being discussed.

    I always thought this was good argument.

    1. That’s a good point, Geoff. The kind of conversations people can have often feel like the highly ‘staged’ conversations school or university kids have on public transport which are loud enough for everyone to overhear how smart and/or daring they are.

      Regarding Seth’s point, I’m not sure exactly what he means. Because you’re right, good arguments do try to take account of the ‘edge cases’. Maybe it’s just a matter of emphasis (and timing). It’s possible to flippantly dismiss an argument by asking it (or the person putting it forward) to explain the edge cases too quickly — e.g., when they’re still tentatively formulating and getting comfortable with the case they’re making. Know what I mean?

  2. I get what you mean. I actually did it with my Mum the other night (though this was offline). She’s interested in pentecostalism and reading some stuff, and I argued like a complete jerk.

    Great post.

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