I’ve had several twitter spats over the last few years. Shamefully, I’ve used the below techniques to win arguments.
They’re utterly pointless, because they don’t actually advance any debate, but do give you a superficial sense of victory, and usually a few extra followers
I thought I’d share them, mostly because spotting the tactic is probably a good way to beat the tactic.
1. Start the Fire
Make a controversial or combative statement on a subject you feel reasonably confident on.There are two main ways of doing this. If you have lots of followers, make your statement universal and await replies. For example, you might say “Recent event A proves that all who hold view B are idiots”.
If you have a relatively small number of followers, you will need to target an opponent with more followers than you who has expressed a view on the subject. Ways to do this include: asking them to condemn X, or demanding to know why they haven’t condemned Y, or claiming that their views on Z show their ignorance of the topic.
It’s important not to be too controversial here. Your point needs to be reasonable enough that the opponent feels the need to respond. You’re looking for row-kindle, not great big logs of controversy.
2. Mock the response
If you have been sufficiently provocative, you will get a response. It is vital now to escalate the disagreement in a way that highlights your superior knowledge and status.
This is harder than it looks, but can usually be achieved. Ways to do this include personal rudeness (“A typically lightweight answer”), sardonic dismissal (“of course you’d say that”). A good technique is to make a controversial statement in a longer article, wait for someone to try to summarise that statement (as they must do, given the format), then accuse them of misrepresenting you in that summary.
3. Flood the zone
Having established your superior credentials and expertise, what you need to do next is tweet several times in quick succession demanding specific responses to a series of points. The key here is to keep your opponent off-balance and to set the terms of the row.
You might demand to hear your opponents views on the relevance of the Armenian Genocide, or ask them to condemn X, where X is similar to, but not quite the same as your topic. If they are advanced twitter spatterers, they may also attempt to flood the zone. Do not be deflected. Keep returning to your questions. the faster you are, the better you will do.
Another technique for flooding the zone is to bring in reinforcements: if there are people who agree with you and reply, keep them in the discussion and demand that their points are answered. Do not be distracted by those who may reply to disagree with you. These can safely be ignored.
Remember, your key task here is to remain on the offensive.
4. Exploit the error fork:
If you’ve executed stage three correctly, you opponent will have done one of three things. They will a) have ignored a point you (or an ally) made in a desperate attempt to reply to your rapidfire tweets, b) will have generalised, made a slight error of fact, or somesuch – such as misphrasing their views in a way you can present negatively or c) will have betrayed some frustration with your approach to debate.
If they have not yet committed the above errors, simply continue with ‘Flooding the zone’ until they do.
If they continue to make reasonable, salient, well-mannered points, you can accuse them of hiding from the real truth by focussing on detail, implying that they are a bore and a pedant.
5. Spotlight your outrage.
Once they entered the error fork, by ignoring a point, making a factual error or getting annoyed, this confirms everything you have said up to this point.
You now need to ensure everyone knows about their mistake and your disgust with their mistake.
Your best option is to demand an apology for whatever mistake they have made. “You said that I supported X. I never supported X. You must withdraw” “I didn’t say you supported X, I said that your position was the same as Xs” “Don’t wriggle. Will you admit that I am not a supporter of X or not?” Any subsequent answers or clarifications can safely be dismissed as desperate backtracking, wriggling denial, or the actions of an ill-mannered goon.
If you get the apology, or an admittance of error, you can declare victory. If you don’t get the apology, then you can declare victory.
6. Close the Gate.
Every row needs a good ending. You need to own that ending. After you’ve spotlighted the error fork, now it is the time to close the gate.
If you’ve run 1-5 properly, there are several ways to do this. You can refuse to engage with someone who makes egregious errors. You might publicise their apology or clarification. A good approach is to declare that you are done with the debate, and, preferably, make a rueful comment about the foolishness of engaging with people with such a limited worldview.
It is essential that the closing of the gate and declaration of victory are made to the maximum audience size. If you have a lot of followers then ensure they all see your victory. If your opponent does, then find someone famous who’ll probably agree with you and tell them about your victory. If you’re lucky, they’ll retweet you and this will start the whole cycle off again, assuring you another victory.
So there you go, that’s how to win any debate on Twitter.
If you spot this technique being used, feel free to accuse your opponent of Senning the debate. That should be enough to shortcut you past the Error fork, and straight on to putting a spotlight on your outrage.