6 Logical Fallacies Prevalent in Social Media Debates

Logic

Whether we like it or not, we communicate more through the written word today than in person. Social media has become all-seeing and ever-present, which means there are more worldwide debates happening on different issues today than at any time in the past. All you have to do is enter your pet burning issue into the Google search bar and you could be neck-deep into a discussion in minutes.

Is this a good thing? Undoubtedly. The only problem is that with the advent of social media, the quality of debate has nosedived. The act of having an opinion and voicing it have become more important than the process of arriving at one. Rare is an argument these days which doesn’t degenerate into a shouting match before you know it. I’m sure those of you who have participated on Facebook debates will agree.

So in the interest of encouraging civil disagreement, I am listing six logical fallacies that I see everywhere on the internet today.

1. Ad Hominem

Perhaps the most commonly found fallacy in internet conversations. An ad hominem is a case of a person attacking the arguer instead of the argument. In a recent debate in which I participated (reluctantly), a man argued against the hanging of juvenile rapists. He put forth a reasoned analysis of the spirit behind the current law, and why it is important that we understand it before we campaign for the alternative.

What did he get in response? A shrill cacophony of ‘Rape apologist!’ and ‘Misogynist!’ among other choice abuses.

2. Bandwagon

Also sometimes called ‘appeal to popularity’. In this age of likes and shares, the owner of the most-liked comment in a debate often resorts to saying: ‘Look, all these guys agree with me. So I must be right.’ Even if he doesn’t say it, he often feels that way. This is a common occurrence in real debates as well, where public support for one side overshadows the other. The person with the weaker argument often walks away thinking that he has ‘won’.

There is strength is numbers, and democracies are built that way, but it’s important to remember the majority opinion is not always right. In fact, if history is any indication, the majority is quite often wrong about a number of issues.

3. Appeal to Authority

Human beings love being told what to do. When Sachin Tendulkar appears on television and asks us to drink Boost for more energy, we don’t stop to question how his expertise in cricket transfers to his judgement of energy drinks. We just obey him. We just buy what he tells us to buy. This is an example of authority in one field transferring into other unrelated fields.

In addition, authority figures are also wrong about certain elements of their own fields. Astronomers in Copernicus’s time knew that the Earth was in the center of the universe. If you take authority figures at their word without examining their arguments, you’re sometimes liable to mistakes. This is especially true of ‘soft sciences’ like sociology, psychology, economics and finance.

4. Appeal to Emotion

Here’s a quick question: which do you think is the more important issue in India at present? Rape or road deaths?

Number of rapes per 100,000 people: 2 (Total number ~25000)

Number of road deaths per 100,000 motor vehicles: 212 (Total number ~250,000)

(You can look at the data here and here)

If your answer is still ‘rape’, it’s an example of how emotionally susceptible we are as a species. A rape case is a story. A road accident is a number. Our media doesn’t report road deaths; there are too many of them. Our citizens don’t protest against road safety. There are no candle light vigils, no holding of silences, no Facebook memes. But we throw everything we have at rape.

5. False Cause

Recently I wrote a post on the correlation between feminism and rape numbers. I explicitly stated in my post that I am not suggesting a causal link between the two. And yet in most of the comments, I had to fight back people who questioned my social responsibility, called me a misogynist, and said my argument was absurd. Why? Because they thought I was saying feminism caused rape.

Just because two things happen together doesn’t mean one causes the other. There may be an inverse correlation between the amount of television-time in schoolchildren and their grades. But does that mean that watching more television made you dumber? Or that dumbness made you watch more television? No.

6. Black or White

This is extremely common. Human beings are by nature binary in their thinking. You’re either republican or democrat. Either a feminist or a misogynist. Either with me or against me. Either good or bad. Either black or white.

People who commit this fallacy don’t appreciate that there may be a third (or fourth, or fifth) way of looking at the problem. They discount the possibility of nuance or subtlety. Anyone disagreeing with them is, by definition, against them, and therefore to be shunned or ridiculed.

Now over to you. Have you noticed any of the above fallacies in your own debates, whether on social media or in person? Do you have any more that you would like to add to this list? What makes you run away from an argument wishing to tear your hair out?

Comments

  1. I have noticed all of the above traits and one more, the fact that social media provides anonymity to some extent which allows people to come out there and express their opinions without the fear of being judged for the same. However, this is a double edged sword and used well can prove invaluable in some instances, but the tragic part is that this anonymity is used to ‘troll’ people and their opinions in social media.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’ve often seen that some people who are quiet and shy in the real world turn angry and confrontational in the online world. In general, I think we’re more prone to shed our inhibitions quickly on social media (and the internet in general), so we both love and hate more easily.

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  2. Agreed. Everyone tends to get confrontational when protected by the anonymity or physical absence on social medium.

    Like

  3. People need to get over themselves. It’s just the internet, not debate society or the Model United Nations. Be polite, sure. Be respectful. But people who start throwing out accusations (“That was a strawman argument!”) just come across as obnoxious jerks who put too form over substance.

    Also try to remember when having discussions on the internet, before you get offended – you can’t “hear” someone’s “tone of voice” from what you are reading on the screen. What you may be reading in a “Condescending Simpsons Comic Book Man” voice might actually be intended in more of a “self-deprecating John Pinette tone.”

    Like

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