How to argue on the internet

The foolproof guide to avoiding intelligent discussion online.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Fancy derailing a discussion but aren't sure how to go about it? Can't be bothered discussing things properly and would much rather chuck a spanner in the works? No worries. Simply use the Derailing for Dummies guide and you need never think too hard about complicated things again!

The "There's Something Much More Serious Going on Somewhere Else" interruption: "Excuse me, but I can't believe you're not talking about rape in the DRC. Why on earth aren't you talking about that in a blogpost entitled 'Kittens and Bunnies'?"

The "Über-Pernickety Pedant of the Week Award": "I can't help noticing that you mention 1,204 jobs are to be lost under these proposals. I think you're forgetting that one job has already been lost, meaning only 1,203 further jobs will be lost. This entirely undermines your argument."

The "Whataboutery Gambit": "But what about men? What about straight people? What about middle-class people? What about white people? What about white straight male people? What about white straight middle-class middle-aged men?"

Advanced "Whataboutery" (aka The Real Victims): "White straight middle-class middle-aged men are the Real Victims of discrimination. You can't get a job nowadays if you're a white straight middle-class middle-aged man. (Well, I did, but that's beside the point.)"

The "I See You Didn't Mention" Spanner/Works Interface: "I see you didn't mention the crimes of Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, which were undoubtedly horrific. Funny how people like you never mention their atrocities in a discussion – but then again, I suppose you'd be in favour of that."

The "So Doing Something Unrelated Which You Haven't Mentioned Is All Right, Is it?" flourish: "You say that torturing people is bad. But I suppose shooting them in the face is all right, is it?"

The "You're Doing the Derailing" Derailment Device: "Arguments like yours derail any decent discussion and close it off for people like me, who never like derailing things. I wish you wouldn't derail things like that. Meanwhile, here's my opinion . . ."

Launching the "My One Anecdote Destroys Everything" Hand Grenade: "All very well you saying that about the NHS and how it compares to other health-care systems across Europe and the developed world, but I once spent a night in a hospital and someone was rude to me!"

"What's the point of talking about things?" finger-waggery: "I don't see the point of you writing this post at all. What do you hope you're going to achieve? Do you think the world will change at all because of what you've said? I don't think so. (Of course you could equally make the same point about this comment, but that would be wrong, because me making this comment really will change everything)."

The "Have a Look at My Take on Things" Shameless Plug Parachute: "I disagree with you. In fact, in my post 'But what about the thing I really want to talk about instead?' over at my blog, I think you'll find I've bested you on every single matter."

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Free trial CSS