Persuasive Writing on the Internet 101

Are you afraid to post in public internet forums?

Do you hesitate to make your opinion heard on social media outlets out of fear of ridicule?

If you answered yes to either of the above questions, you’re in the right place. This is the first installment of an exciting new and affordable (i.e., free) online course titled “Persuasive Writing on the Internet 101” – sponsored by Blendverse. This is an introductory lesson and should be no more intimidating than syllabus day, although there could be a pop quiz next week! Please read the below and be prepared to discuss with your classmates (on the internet, NOT in real life). I have outlined the three fundamental principles related to persuasive writing on the internet that will frame our discussions on various interesting topics throughout the course:

Winning. Winning is everything. At its most fundamental level, any discussion, debate, argument, etc., on the internet is chiefly about winning. If a discussion seems too friendly, you should seek to either antagonize the other side or take issue with any minor point possible in order to create a “win condition” for yourself.

One tip to consider before our next class relates directly to this point – that winning is everything. Although, the point is not exactly about winning … it is more about not losing. In order to facilitate this,

Never cite a source for your information unless absolutely necessary.

Consider this for a moment. You should never cite a source for your information. If you do, then the validity of your assertions may be called into question and you invite others to present sources that counter your argument. As long as you never present a source, you never have to acknowledge the sources presented by the other side. You are a winner. You rely on pure reason. Repeat that mantra to yourself.

Avoid nuance. This point is obvious and easily demonstrated by the following equation:

Nuance   =   Bad Writing   =   Losing Argument

Avoid nuance at all costs. For instance, your arguments as they relate to complex political issues should be capable of being understood in less than five seconds (the five second rule). This is a natural consequence of the state of the human attention span in the 21st Century. For example, if you discuss at length why it is problematic for the president of the United States to have a chief political strategist with an inherently indefensible degree of influence at the highest level of national security decision-making, then you will lose. Such a statement can NEVER be good writing on the internet.

Instead, do something like this: post a picture of Senator Mitch McConnell next to a picture of a turtle. This is the most effective way to communicate your argument. Internet sideliners (formerly known as the, “peanut gallery”) will readily understand your point: Senator McConnell probably did something not so smart recently and/or obviously hypocritical and is hoping that any notice of his hypocrisy will pass with time. How do they know this? Because they see a picture of a turtle. Turtles are (1) ugly and (2) slow. The ugly part does not really relate to your point, but you’re a seasoned internet sophist and you just could not pass up the opportunity to so efficiently make your point and also call someone ugly.

toby-turtle 3.jpg

But back to the point. Turtles, watchers will realize, move super slow because they are obviously not so smart and are unsure of where to place their feet with each step, rather than because of their inherent physiological structures. Now, you may doubt that the average person would be able to extrapolate such an assertion simply from a picture. However, as the general population’s attention span in regards to reading well-researched and thoroughly detailed information has decreased, their ability to interpret memes, emojis and other things of the like has increased proportionally. Don’t worry, they’ll get it. Very well done, you’re on your way to mastering the basics!

Anecdotes reign supreme. This is the last point for our first session, but it is not to be overlooked.

Anecdotal evidence is more important than rigorous data collection and reasoned, justifiable extrapolation from that set of data.

Want to win the argument? Anecdotes are your best bet. If you’re in a debate on immigration, for instance, try linking to an article (note, this is a rare exception to rule described under the section on “Winning”) that shows the brutal crimes of a single immigrant to suggest that all immigrants (or at least those from a particular region) are predisposed to committing violent crimes. Never mind that numerous reputable studies show that immigrants are incarcerated at lower rates than native populations in the United States (or in the best/worst case depending on where you stand there is an uncertainty as to the right conclusion), or that simply categorizing people as “immigrants” says nothing on its own about the socioeconomic differences within this population (which is probably more likely than simply being an immigrant to have a causal relationship with the propensity to commit crime). Forget all that. That would add nuance to the discussion, which we cannot have (see preceding section). We cannot tailor policy to deal with the specific challenges of immigration, but simultaneously recognize its benefits, including cultural and economic (given the United States’ aging workforce and genuine need for labor and a shortage of highly skilled labor in many sectors). That would be lunacy.

You may hesitate or ponder this point and desire to push back.  Instead you might say, “No, this is an incredible problem. The anecdote may be a story in and of itself worth of attention and reporting, but to extrapolate from that anecdote and make broadly applicable claims unsupported by the given the sample of data upon which you rely is simply irresponsible journalism. You need rigorous data collection and testing, along with the use of a cross-sectional regression in order to identify which variable produced causal effeczldvhalen;lezhvl;zvlshvlzsefhlzshvl … sorry, I fell asleep while typing that and my face must have hit the keyboard. And that is precisely what your reader will do if they ever see a statement like that. Don’t make that mistake. Remember, it’s not necessarily about being right – it’s about winning (see section 1).

And that’s it for this week’s reading! Consider these points and experiment. I look forward to our discussion next week.

– Sandeep Dhaliwal, Tenured Professor

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