This page gives general suggestions. To learn about the quirks of commenting on a particular website follow the links on Where to Comment.
- Keep it short and punchy
- One irrefutable point is often best
- Non-technical but convincing points are best
- Keep psychology in mind and think about your target audience
- There are four types of target audiences:
- On our side — Don’t preach to the choir, but give them ammunition: powerful, easy to recall arguments.
- Uniformed — These are the easiest to win over.
- Mistaken — Hard, but sometimes possible to to win over. Important to neutralize by making them unsure of their position.
- Extremists — You can’t convince them, so don’t try.
- About Trolls and Extremists
- Trolls: Don’t engage trolls directly (that’s what they want). But it’s OK to make a separate post pointing out that they are easily identified by their bad manners or their attacks on anti-troll posts.
- Extremists: The only thing that works is social pressure—not logic. Logic upsets and makes them worse because it challenges their identity (see below). But the more we convince the uniformed and mistaken, the more social pressure there will be for them to change. This will quiet them down a bit, and more people will challenge them when they rant.
- You don’t have to reply — the winner is not the one who gets the last word.
- Be friendly.
- Other posters are often expecting a fight. Best to defuse that.
- Demonstrate that you really considered what the other poster said. This enhances your credibility.
- Two replies about politics and one about movies may win more points than three on politics.
- Focus on the readers not the other commenters
- On some sites there are 100 readers for every commenter.
- The other commenters are usually the least persuadable.
- You can comment on another comment without calling that out.
If you want to de-fang the trolls
Internet trolls: “They appear to be the internet version of everyday sadists because they spend time searching for people to hurt.” Sure enough, an anonymous survey of trollish commentators found that they scored highly on dark tetrad traits, but particularly the everyday sadism component – and enjoyment was their prime motivation.
Atlantic Monthly, Dec 12, 2014. Both political scientists, Nyhan and Reifler have spent the past several years studying what they call the “backfire effect,” or the idea that when presented with information that contradicts their closely-held beliefs, people will become more convinced, not less, that they’re in the right. In one study, when staunch conservatives read information refuting the idea that the U.S. found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they tended to believe more firmly than before that it was true; the researchers saw similar effects in studies correcting the notion that President Obama is Muslim and the claim that “death panels” were a part of healthcare reform.
From there, vaccination seemed like a logical next step in their research, Nyhan said: “Vaccines aren’t a partisan or ideological issue, but they’re controversial. They bring up issues of identity and tribalism that feel a lot like politics,” he explained. “I have kids, and talking about vaccines on the playground is like bringing up religion. It’s very weird and delicate and controversial.”
Though the vaccine studies have yielded results subtly different from the “backfire effect”—people were willing to accept new information as true, even when it had no effect on what they did in the end—Nyhan believes that the same sort of mental gymnastics is likely at work across both areas: reactance, the psychological phenomenon in which persuading people to accept certain idea can push them in the opposite direction.
“Think of a teenager when you tell them not to do something. That kind of response that we’re describing is going to likely be on the most controversial issues,” Nyhan said.
But the effect, the researchers explained, is more one of self-preservation than pure contrariness. “When your sense of self and your worldview are challenged, you need to have a defense mechanism in place. It’s much easier to say ‘This information is wrong’ than to say, ‘How I view the world turned out not to be correct,’” Reifler said.