The Way of the Twitter Warrior

  1. First and foremost, you must have a non-Twitter safe haven to retreat to. Preferably this should be an irl location/activity – such as the pub with friends, a walk in the country, fish & chips on the beach etc. – but any happy place will do.
  2. Do your research. You might be thinking of an online debate as a battle of personalities – even if this is so, your argument is your sword and your shield. You have the time, so make them as strong as you can. If your argument is opinion based, try to give sensible reasons.
  3. Acquaint yourself with the correct terminology to label fallacious arguments – “straw man”, “slippery slope”, “ad hominem”, etc. This allows you to dismiss them easily, quickly, concisely (you have fewer than 140 characters, after all), and professionally. CAVEAT: try not to drop in too many intellectual-sounding words. It will make you look like a dick.
  4. Write properly. Spelling and grammar are important. Since it is Twitter, abbreviations are acceptable in the name of brevity; but use them only as and when needed.
  5. Refusing to be pulled into an unwinnable  argument is a victory in itself. Choose your battles, and choose them wisely. Choosing not to fight is not the same as losing!
  6. Steel yourself for uncouth language. It’s the internet, I’m afraid, and sometimes people say swears. If your opponent has a particularly salty vocabulary, a “why all the swearing?” or “do you message your mother with that language?” might earn you morality points; but otherwise it’s best ignored. Swear if you have to, but keep in mind that over-swearing gives a polite opponent the opportunity to score morality points off you.
  7. Know thine enemy. When preparing to engage an opponent, a quick reconnaissance of their profile can give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. Recon carefully, you may find the key to your opponent’s defeat.
  8. Love thine enemy. Your task is to enlighten, not (solely) to humiliate. Compassion is valuable because however wrong they are, they’re still a person. Try to see things from their perspective, not least of all because they might be right (and if they are, the sooner you know the better! Arguing with someone who’s right is like playing chicken with a tank – you can win, but they’ve got to be stupid and you have to be brilliant).
  9. Take the moral high ground. You can lose an argument if you have the moral high ground, but you can’t lose it badly. The moral high ground is a fantastic buffer. This means no personal attacks, and as little swearing as possible.
  10. If you want to sting your opponent, use insults that they can’t respond to without weakening their own position; specifically insults that are too complicated/passive-aggressive/backhanded for your opponent to respond to concisely, or that are so mild your opponent will look childish if they take offence. Words hurt, and sometimes less is more effective than more.
  11. Ad hominems. Ad hominems are a dangerous game, and are unlikely to work in your favour. If you’re set on an ad hominem, the less aggressive the better. Something like “17,000 tweets? You spend way too much time on here”, or “Daily Mail reader, are we?” are acceptable, though they may cost you the moral high ground.
  12. Brevity is key. Wherever possible, make your points in a single tweet. Nothing looks more amateurish (and is more tedious to respond to) than a point made over the span of several tweets.
  13. Quote sources for your facts. Sources are a “shield” of sorts, as they protect you personally from criticism – “hey, don’t blame me! I’m just quoting XYZ”. Quotes/facts are super-effective if they come from a source your opponent respects. Likewise, if they come from a source your opponent has no respect for (e.g. newspapers/broadcasters with a political bias, religious institutions, particular politicians) they’re unlikely to aid your argument at all.
  14. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Typos and other minor errors aren’t worth pointing out, as it’ll make you look petty and can cost you the moral high ground.  Pedantry of any kind is, for practical purposes, an admission of defeat. Exceptions are: if their spelling and grammar are so bad you’ve lost interest in debating with them; or if you are trolling, and can pull it off in that particular situation.
  15. One at a time. Arguing with multiple opponents will crowd your message with @’s, and you have limited space as it is. Likewise, separate threads are easier to keep track of than a single thread that multiple people are @-replying to.
  16. There is no need to reply to every @-message. Feel free to ignore argumentative messages that don’t interest you (whoever it is will very likely find someone else to argue with) and messages in which you are @-mentioned but are talking about you instead of to you.
  17. Do not feed the trolls. Ever. Exception: for lulz.
  18. Avoid obvious logical fallacies. An obvious logical fallacy (a crude ad hominem, for example) is an admission of defeat.
  19. Never delete a tweet. This is an incontrovertible sign of guilt, and will be seen as such. Try not to say anything that will need deleting. Exception: if you notice an error within the first minute of posting, in which case a delete/edit/re-post is acceptable.
  20. Tweet as if your mother/employer is watching.
  21. Sarcasm is a risky business. If it is misunderstood (which is entirely possible given that written sarcasm doesn’t often work well and people on the internet are stupid) having to explain it will make you look like a fool.
  22. Watch your crossfire! Misunderstandings and misinterpretations can lead to tense words between people who don’t know that they actually agree with each other. This is a hurt feeling waiting to happen. Read all messages carefully and critically, and check the profiles of those you speak with (See number 7).
  23. Backup – if others are having the same debate as you, give constructive back up where it is needed. Those to whom you provide backup may back you up someday. CAVEAT: be careful not to piss on your ally’s points or derail their debate, as this is unlikely to win you any friends.
  24. Keep it relevant. Do not @-reply your opponent’s past tweets – stick to those regarding the topic at hand. Preferably engage in only one thread per opponent (two maximum).
  25. When it’s over, it’s over. Winning an argument only to be ignored may be frustrating, but repeatedly messaging a person who no longer wishes to speak with you makes you look pathetic (and wether you’re pathetic or not, you probably don’t want to look pathetic).
  26. If you have to leave (for food, work, sleep etc.) before the debate is over, try to frame it in a subtle “I have a life” kind of way. In many cases you will be able to pick up the argument at your next convenience, this time with the benefit of a cooler head and an increasingly uninterested opponent.
  27. Where possible, allow your opponent the last word (particularly in drive-by quickie arguments). If the last word they choose to give is anything remotely dickish, their dickishness is doubled when you don’t respond. If they say something dickish and you do respond, the best case scenario is that you come off as kind of up-yourself and snooty (“fuck you, you piece of shit!”/”oh, how mature #eyeroll”) and the worst case scenario is that you end up looking as dickish as they do and probably also stupid (“fuck you, you piece of shit!”/”no, fuck YOU, YOU piece of shit!”). If they then don’t reply, you become the dick with the dickish last word.
  28. If necessary, admit defeat. If you lose an argument, or realise that you’ve been backed into an indefensible position, admitting defeat is somewhat akin to amputating a gangrenous leg. It will put you back on the moral high ground (or as close as possible to).
  29. Win forcefully. If you have proven your case beyond a doubt, but your opponent refuses to see sense, you may choose to end the debate with a definitive “I’ve given you the facts but you refuse to acknowledge them”. For some people, the fight is never over. Continue arguing with them if you want to, but it’s unlikely you’ll gain anything from it.
  30. Win gracefully. If your opponent admits defeat, there is nothing more magnanimous than a gracious winner. A “that’s ok, it’s been really cool talking to you!” is pretty much the best you can hope for and that, my friend, is an epic win.
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