Saturday, December 5, 2009

Uncle PL's Guide to Handling Rightwing-Nuts Online

I enjoy Twitter a lot - so much so that some days I will be on it for literally hours. I mean from morning until very late at night. Like I said, I am retired and do have lots of time on my hand and the internet sure beats a lot of what's on TV. I have email groups I participate in too - most of them I call slow motion chat rooms because most of the emails from them tend to be a sentence or two.

This Twitter thing is most fun though. You're forced to get your point across in literally 140 spaces that includes spaces between words. There is one basic rule about Twitter though - it's only as good as who you choose to follow and who chooses to follow you.

However, as they say on talk radio, this isn't what I writing about.

What this post is about is what I've learned when deciding to debate the far right online. Some people who take this on are new at it, some old hands but here are some suggestions that work for me. Let's call these rules for the sake of this essay....


Remain calm. Be aware that the person you are debating has been told by their leaders (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, etc.) that if they say such and such, that will "annoy liberals" and by doing so that is a victory for them and the conservative movement. Two things to keep close to mind and heart as you post to them - you have facts, they have only what Fox News and their radio hate shows tell them is so. When they make their admittedly aggravating claims that they heard on their radio and saw on their TVs, keep repeating those facts you have.


Do not ask far rightwingers questions. We on the left are actually pretty nice folks and we tend to view other humans in a good light. We approach the far right with the Socratic approach as in if we ask them the right questions we will guide them to the Truth. Sorry, but that plain doesn't work with the fringe right. You cannot use reason with the unreasonable. Instead, say what you need to say in simple, declarative sentences. No "Don't you think blah blah blah?" No, they don't think. They are authoritarians - they get told by other authoritarians and they repeat it the same way they are told. Do it right back at them.


"Don't you think if we had healthcare for all the country would be better off?"


"The country would be better off if everyone had healthcare."


You get the idea.

But Uncle PL, what if they stick with what they are saying and ignore the facts that I give them?

Then you go to....


The most potent weapon to use against the far right is ridicule and laughter. Don't get angry and going all ALL CAPS at them - they want that. The far righters, as much as they bluster and act macho, are really an insecure lot. They need two things most of all: attention and validation. They want to be the star of your email group, chat room or Twitter postings and pay attention only to them. You may be doing the online equivalent of shouting at them and calling them rude names but attention is attention. This is also validation of their viewpoint - since they consider liberals awful people who only trade in falsehood, your anger is only proving to them the righteousness of their positions.

However, this falls apart for them if you start to ridicule their stories and laugh at them. Call it snark or sarcasm, it's devastating to them. You just knocked their supports out from under them - not only are you not accepting their claims, you are not taking them seriously. They get told that only they are the serious ones with serious positions - undermine that and they get all flustered. Combine this with RULE #2 and count the seconds before they run away - something they are also told to do if it gets too hot for them.

But...Uncle PL! That's being mean, just like them! We can't do that - how are we going to change any minds that way?


Understand this simple fact - there is little to no debating online. Once in a while you'll hit someone who is genuinely on the fence on some issue or some thinking conservative who has real opinions and the information to back them up. These are so rare that they are to be treasured when found. What you are dealing with an overwhelming majority of the time are right wing ideologues who are looking to score points against you. As I said, they want you to get upset and they will use any and everything at hand to do so. They are the convinced and nothing you say to them will get them to shift a single position they've been fed - and trust me, fed is the right word here. Creativity and independent thought need not apply - what you're dealing with most of the time are followers, not leaders.

So, what do we do with them? We defeat them. We beat them down. We stick to our guns. We outlast them. We run them out of the cyber room with their tails between their legs, crawling away whimpering from the red ass we just gave them.

As James Carville said once, "I don't want to be friends with the right. I want them defeated."

Now, in a perfect world, none of my rules would be necessary. Most of us on the left don't log on with the idea of looking for a fight - we want to test our ideas and get some good information so we're better informed citizens. All comers welcome: who knows - a conservative might have a good idea that we haven't considered and be worth a look.

There once was a time in America when doing all that was possible.

Those days are gone.

Our friends on the right don't want discussion - they want to do to us what I said we should do to them. We're not people with a different point of view who share their wishes to make America a better country but just disagree with how to get there, to them we are the enemy. Read and hear what they say. They say we hate America and want to destroy it. They don't accept that we support a woman's choice in reproductive matters - to them, all we want to do is murder unborn babies. To them, we support terrorism because we don't fear all of the adherents of a particular religion since a few of them want to do us harm. We don't oppose the war on Iraq because we think it was unnecessary and sold to us on a stack of lies - to them, we want to destroy the morale of our military and cheer when they are maimed or killed because we think it bolsters our position. To them, what's our position? Surrender always because we are spineless, pacifist wimps who think the United States is an evil country, unworthy of defending.

What a load of crap.

I don't have to refute any of this - my friends on the left have already done that, early and often.

So, they want a fight? We're their huckleberries.

I say we make the far right into a club sandwich. And we've got the clubs to do just that.


Steve said...

Ha! good points all.

Personally I am under no illusion re converting Teabaggers, I see my function as making as much reasonably intelligent noise as possible, both on Twitter and the blogosphere to cancel out the influence of as many of them as possible. It's a numbers game.

No one is going to convert anyone, sad but true.

Jason the Absurdist said...

If I may be so bold I think I can summarize this well-written post into one sentence: RWNJs should be treated like two year-old children. After all they cry incessantly and without legitimate cause; they're completely irrational, they insist on being the center of attention; they're hopelessly stubborn; even when they lose they declare victory; their world-view is completely skewed and isolated yet they think they know everything; you still have to deal with them in the hopes that one day they'll mature and become well-rounded adults. And at least part of the battle is for those around you to learn the right lesson too.

Personally I'd rather debate with my two year-old than with a RWNJ. At least my son can admit when he's wrong.