Twitter Arguments

From time to time, someone on Twitter will decide to take another person to task about an opinion they hold, or are thought to hold (not at all the same thing), or will tag their name onto a tweet in the hope of getting their views into the other’s data stream and thereby reaching all their followers. It happens to me occasionally. Sometimes I’m not online to notice; sometimes I’ll engage in friendly discussion or disagreement. Sometimes, however, things take an uglier turn and I prefer to dissociate myself entirely from the other’s agenda by blocking them. Inevitably, that leads to howls of rage from the blocked, but, really, why should one meekly accept insults and accusations, usually expressed in screaming capitals, when one has not initiated the argument oneself and has no desire to press any particular point?

In the past few days, I’ve had two ‘interesting’ experiences of a Twitter argument into which others tried to draw me. My overwhelming feeling in each case was ‘this is a waste of time, no one is listening to anyone else, and hurling insults around makes it unlikely that anyone is going to want to listen to anyone else’. I preferred to withdraw (and was, of course, attacked for doing so) but I think if one genuinely believes in freedom of speech, one must allow others the right to silence. That is often forgotten on Twitter, where individuals sometimes assume the right to compel others to respond. It is, in effect, another form of bullying.

However, I accept that many people do want to use Twitter for arguing but don’t want to be bullies, so here are my five little tips for Twitter arguments. Before you begin, ask yourself

1. Is Twitter the best place to argue your  case?

2. Can you make a valid statement in 140 characters?

3. Can you argue your case without attacking/accusing/insulting another? (Courtesy does matter; so does checking one’s facts and getting them right.)

4. Are you prepared to admit you are wrong?

5. Will you recognize that not everyone is as happy to argue as you are yourself?

I have to admit that my tips come more as a plea to the disputacious than the fruits of experience as I’ve never initiated an argument on Twitter and don’t think I’ve ever ‘won’ any in which I may have engaged. Twitter arguments often generate more heat than light, and people and reputations are sometimes badly harmed in the process. The most important advice I would give to anyone wanting to argue on Twitter, therefore, would be Mr Punch’s advice to those about to marry — don’t. Or, if you cannot manage that, at least think before you tweet.


12 thoughts on “Twitter Arguments”

  1. Good, sage advice.
    I have had the nasty experience of being attacked on Twitter, not for anything I’ve said as such, but for what someone has construed out of what they think I said. My reaction now would be to distance myself pretty quickly from it, but in the past I have not withdrawn instantly and it still shocks me how people can become furiously angry with another for simply holding another view.

  2. The main subject for which I get attacked on Twitter is Pro-life, and I refuse to get drawn into any arguments over what is, to many not sharing my views on the sanctity of life, a very emotive subject – particularly in the U.S.
    If it persists ( and folk get very annoyed when you don’t respond) I block the source. This is not because I don’t believe in the right to free speech, or the intensity of opinions held. It is simply because Twitter is not the place to do it.
    My brief Twitter profile states that I am Roman Catholic, that I am Pro-life from conception to natural death, so with a little trouble anyone can see exactly where I am coming from.
    I sometimes feel that folk ‘search’ obvious targets upon which to pour their vitriol. God help them.

  3. I wonder at how little Jesus said in those hours before He went to the cross and yet He did not withdraw leading the one thief to salvation in the very last moments. As a follower who is there to support you, Sister, we are truly blessed for the wonderful work He does through you and I pray for His protection on you as you do this difficult work which sometimes brings you and Him hurt pain and insult.

  4. Perhaps I should twitter, or does one twit? But there again I’d have to buy a mobile phone and a charger and remember to switch it on and pay the bills regularly and update it frequently and so on the whole I suspect not one twitty INSULT or ARGUMENT or :O) will come from me!

  5. As someone else has already said, sage advice! I must confess, I’ve never seen the point of twitter as somewhere to debate, or worse, argue… but then I am a very wordy person! I only really started using twitter to keep reminded of blogs like yours, and to keep an ostensibly free line of text message like communication open with family who are at a distance. But I did find myself in a twitter argument once: being given atrocious treatment for supporting Ruhama (a Dublin based charitable organization who support women trying to leave prostitution, and women and children who have been trafficked as sex slaves) – at first it was tempting to respond, as reasonably as I could. But with a little digging, I discovered that the tweeter doing the attacking was actually the owner of Ireland’s biggest online escort agency. At that point, I went straight for the block feature – the one and only time – because I understood there was no openness to any opposing view. What was very sweet was that I did get a couple of DMs that were very supportive and reassuring; that this person habitually attacked people who speak out against prostitution and trafficking. And that was a nice thing to discover about twitter; that just as anonymous twits can come and attack, equally anonymous people can come and support.

    Blessings on your day Sister.

  6. I think that twitter is a space to engage and even build community. It’s not really the place to start or to join an argument as they normally descend to shouting as either party isn’t listening or believe that they’ve got to get their point across.

    Being opinionated is in my view a bit of a luxury, better to be thoughtful and a listener and perhaps even sociable and have fun while out there, not fights.

  7. Very good advice – I rarely tweet and until a few days ago had never really engaged in the sort of activity that your blog describes… However, having donne it, I suspect I won’t be doing it again in a hurry! I don’t really understand Twitter and find that I have been added to some kind of a list – ‘Cool Bastards’ is not really a list or title I would have chosen to describe myself, tho it may have a dubious kudos in some quarters. Owning ones social history, praying for social and religious change may include sometimes making a twit of oneself in the eyes of others – all in 140 characters!

  8. Thank you for sharing your ideas about Twitter and more. As you probably know, I’m very positive about Twitter in general (I do sometimes tweet in Latin, though I’m not sure my style would be called Tacitan — Sallust springs to mind more readily!) provided one is prepared to make an effort to use it well. It is possible to say worthwhile things in 140 characters (each of the Beatitudes, for example) and I’m very grateful for all that I’ve learned from others. That said, it isn’t for everyone, but I’d be sorry if people of integrity shied away from it and left it to those who want to use it for venting abuse or worse.

  9. I really live the point you make about freedom of speech also including the freedom of silence. I tend to forget that I don’t have to answer to everyone on everything. I shall chew on that awhile. Thanks.

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