7 Reasons Arguing Online is a Waste of Your Time

The internet is a marvelous tool for showing the world just how clever we are. I failed to make much of an impression at school, but give me a keyboard and an online forum, and I become an intellectual titan – or at least I used to be able to. I’ve wasted so many hours arguing with strangers, and I’m so glad I don’t need to do that anymore. Here are 7 reasons why I believe arguing online is a waste of time:

Cyber Bullying

It Creates an Attitude of “Us” versus “Them”

When I was 20, I went to live in Glasgow for a year. I got a job in a bar. The fact that I have a southern Irish accent meant that the Celtic football supporters adopted me as one of their own. I didn’t really care about football, but it felt so nice to be accepted by these people. I started going to matches with my new pals, and I got completely carried away by it all. I started to worship Celtic, and I hated anything to do with Glasgow Rangers – I even felt threatened by anyone who followed that team. I developed the “us” versus “them” mentality, and I see the same thing happening online all the time.

It Reinforces Unhelpful Beliefs and Opinions

My beliefs and opinions about things change all the time – it’s one of the things I most like about myself. The problem with arguing online is it interferes with this healthy process. When my self-worth is dependent on my ability to defend a belief, I’m not going to let go of it very easily. This is what leads to dogmatism and closed-mindedness. It becomes my job to not understand the other person’s point of view, and I can be very good at it.

Arguing Online Brings Out the Worst in People

The anonymity of the web mixed with the human need to be right is a terrible combination. I bet most of us wouldn’t have the nerve to speak to people in real life the way we do online. It is so easy to forget that the person we are arguing with has real feelings – it’s also more tempting to be obnoxious when you know the other person can’t punch you on the nose. If people behaved in the real world the way they do online, we’d be in a constant state of war.

Online Arguments Are Mentally Draining

I’ve walked away from online arguments feeling physically sick. It’s kept me awake at night. I already have enough challenges in my life without adding this type of unwarranted stress. These debates can be just so addictive. If we feel that we have been insulted or belittled, it is very hard to just walk away and forget about it. This means we can up wasting the entire night debating over something that is ultimately pointless, and we can end up feeling like a bit of a zombie the next day.

Arguing Online Causes Bad Feelings

We all vary in our ability to handle criticism and ridicule. Snarky comments can seem harmless enough at the time, but they have the potential to really hurt feelings if this person is dealing with low self-esteem. The fact that we can’t see them means we can’t judge how our words are impacting them. It can be difficult to draw the line between a forceful argument and bullying. Saying the wrong words to a person who is already feeling low may be enough to drive them into depression or even to suicide.

These Arguments Rarely Cause Other People to Change Their Beliefs and Opinions

It is nice to imagine that we are intellectual warriors feeding wisdom to the plebs, but this is just delusional thinking. The reality is that if you were me, you would believe in all the things I believe in, and if I were you the same would apply. These online debates are not about sharing knowledge and helping people to learn. These arguments almost always boil down to I’m right and you’re stupid – hardly the right way to win minds and influence people.

We Start to Believe That Being Right Means Proving Someone Else Wrong

I doubt there is one human on the planet who really knows what this life is all about. We cling to certainly like a security blanket, and this means we develop this desperate need to defend our beliefs. Instead of valuing beliefs on the basis of how much they improve our life – we judge them by our ability to prove other people wrong.

Recap – Seven Reason You Should Avoid Arguing Online

• It creates enemies in our minds that don’t really exist
• It makes it harder to let go of unhelpful beliefs and opinions
• It brings out our worst qualities
• It is a waste of our precious energy
• It hurts other people
• It is reinforcing our need to be right all the time
• We become less able to judge ideas on their own utility

19 Comments

    • femmemuscle

      I agree..

      There’s also something that shocked me a few times, and i never gave people on the internet any power afterwards.

      There was a forum on the internet that was open for X-ray techs. One guy on there was very popular – very “alpha-ish”. He literally had the ladies swooning over him. Many asked him out for dates, etc. And yes, he was the “best debater” amongst the members. But he always declined their invites, PM, advances, etc.

      I had an x-ray assignment in San Francisco. There was this emaciated looking tech there, that was a meth addict, skittish, beady eyes, pock marked face, horrible teeth, socially awkward, cowardly, bulging eyes, – a real dodgy-looking character. No one on the staff liked/trusted him.

      After working with him for a week, i realized who he was. Mr. Alpha on the forum. After i confronted him in person? He avoided me like the plague.

      It took a few more “incidents” like this to realize. People get on these forums to be someone they actually are not. Many of them are the complete opposite of what you’re imagining. It’s like wearing a costume.

      Thus, in my opinion, it’s really hard to engage with a person who’s a figment of their OWN imagination.:)

  1. You’ve written a lot of great articles Paul but nothing comes close to that one. A fantastic read. There should be a link to this article displayed at the top of every discussion forum on the planet – next to a button that says ‘enter at your own risk’

    I’ve been very active on expat discussion forums in the past – probably far too much for my own good. And I would certainly agree with all of your points above. I’ve had nights where I’ve gone to bed literally shaking with anger over slanderous words someone has typed and I’ve tossed and turned all night long. Seriously – who f***ing needs that?

    About two years ago, I made a decision – no more expat forums. And I haven’t been back since and life has been immensely richer and happier, free from hours of arguing with faceless people just to prove them wrong.

    Even on the light-hearted ajarn Facebook page, you can sometimes feel that ‘expat forum’ tension start to rear its ugly head, but at least on there, it’s easy just to press the ‘delete and ban’ button. I’m not having any ‘expat forum’ shenanigans spill over on to that. Not for a minute.

    Anyway, great article!

    Phil

    • Well thank you Phil for the nicest comment ever 🙂 I definitely know what you mean about the expat forums. It felt like on those times when I genuinely posted looking for advice there would be the sound of crickets, but a pointless post would generate hundreds of pages of arguments. It’s so easy to get swept up in this nonsense – it’s addictive.

  2. Martin

    I agree with you however I do like to go on these forums and websites if i am bored and only for a wind-up. I never say anything that is hurtful to anyone.I see it as a form of entertainment however it does lose appeal after a few win-ups. Also hail hail.

    • Hi Martin, I think you are right about it being a form of entertainment. The problem is that some of us start to take it all far too seriously. Maybe it’s a bit like alcohol – a minority of us just need to give it up completely 🙂

  3. Tyree D.

    It’s actually fun. I have no actual feeling about politics or sports but I do know enough to defend or talk down all sides! I was in Thailand where it was the middle of the night in America so it felt so good to disturb people that originally wanted to rant and think nobody would reply.

  4. Krystal

    Agreed! A colossal waste of time. Instead of arguing, I use that time to delete/ban and go out and do something constructive. I will never prove anyone wrong and when I do, then what? I don’t get a medal so who cares. Thanks for the article!

  5. Regina

    I almost got into an endless back & forth over whether The Walking Dead declined in ratings. I think with delayed viewers Hulu, Amazon Video, Netflix there are so many options to watch the show you have to get the Live + 3 numbers in before you can say it’s in decline. The other person says no, live + viewers are what matters to advertisers & the bottom line. This went on for 2 days & nights. With both of us posting stats & info to prove the other wrong. I was not about to let her get the last word. Until I just did. I feel like it was such a drain on my time & made me feel tired & bad.
    So now as curious as I am to read what she last wrote, I won;’t even go there now. It’s hard because I’m sure she got satisfaction at me quitting. But so what really? I don’t know her. Who cares. I outgrew flame wars online years ago. But I slipped. I want to read what she has said so bad but I feel I’m better off & am the adult in the room not knowing & dropping it.

  6. Regina

    Your 7 points are very good, so thanks. It gives me the resolve to never argue with strangers online again. I was looking for this type of encouragement to stop with this rude woman on TWD website. She was rude to me out the blue but so what right? I’m the better person for walking away.

  7. Michael

    The rich and famous have certainly cottoned on to internet forums, especially platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Not generally hooked themselves but they keep millions of other addicts in thrall to boost their own popularity and egos. I wouldn’t say it was all a complete waste of time because I learned things from the experience. So it was for me educational but what started out as fun became an obsession One of my new year resolutions is to stay away from them and basically get a life again. Being ‘right’ doesn’t matter half as much to me as it used to.

  8. Jane

    Online arguments are also very slow too so you just tend to ruminate on it for a long time. A real life argument is quicker so you don’t tend to ruminate as much.

    Also, a person on the other side has much more time to create weird fallacies that sound reasonable where in real life they would be quiet and stumped. They can only make viable points online because in real life they’d be beat. Obviously, not all online arguments are like this but it happens. We also shouldn’t go into arguments to say “you’re right and I’m wrong” but that’s what happens the majority of the time, especially when online.

  9. Brad

    I have a hard time letting blatant lies, anti-science, and hatred go unchecked. Sometimes people need to be called on their shit. There are people who will think that because they’re not getting negative feedback that it means people are in agreement with them. Unfortunately now we’re living in the “Alternative Facts” world.

  10. femmemuscle

    I find that some people can argue on line all day.. Just go into any random forum – and you will find a disagreement that can go on for hours -even weeks.

    Then there are the instigators. Those are the ones that once a “debate” is over? They’ll stir up again for entertainment’s sake.

    I’m shocked at how quickly folks take the bait..

    There are even forum members that really don’t care about the subject matter – they’ll hit the “like” button just to bolster confidence in the ones debating – just to keep the argument going.

    For many, it’s not about values or opinions – it’s entertainment.

    I, for one, am not a debater. If someone disagrees, i just don’t answer and go on with my priorities. Thus, in a nutshell – life is too short.

    • Michael

      The instigators are often the site owners themselves who appear on their own forums

      Just stoking up the arguments, they have no personal interest in to keep the traffic flowing.

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