7 Ways to Win An Argument Online

ChangeMyView Difference Between Winning and Losing Arguments

Source: Winning Arguments

In a previous post, “The Image Problem and It’s Solution,” I went over some important issues within the libertarian community that creates the image problem it has with the general public. I went over some important cognitive biases and heuristics that degrade ones ability to explain and sell libertarianism to a “non-believer.” I then concluded with two key factors for having successful conversations about libertarianism and anarchy. Theory of mind; understanding that other people have unique beliefs, desires, and intentions different than your own, which are based on rational thought. And deep canvassing; a style of real world conversation that studies have shown is most effective in changing peoples minds on any given topic.

Since then, I’ve come across a great study titled, “Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions.”

As the title suggests, the study focused on online discussions. Specifically, it analyzed the conversations on one of the most popular and active destinations for persuasion and arguments on all topics. A subreddit called “ChangeMyView.” The study resulted in seven findings based on looking at what factors are most commonly found when someone changes their mind on the topic they brought up.

Keep in mind that the findings apply to all parties in a conversation or argument. If you follow these findings, it will be easier for you to convince people of a viewpoint. And if others are using these guidelines, it suggests that they are open to changing their minds.

Meaning, no matter what side of the conversation you’re on, or position you’ve taken, these findings show how to recognize when someone is being open-minded, and how to convince those who are open-minded of your beliefs. Not following basic guidelines such as these can very easily, and very quickly close an open mind.

1. Early Responses

Perhaps the most simple finding is that those who reply to or join the conversation the earliest, are most likely to change the original posters mind. The first two people who respond to an online post are three times more likely to change the original posters mind than the 10th person.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post anything if you’re not the first person. In the third finding listed here, you’ll see that adding in your perspective can have a huge effect on convincing someone to change their mind, even if they don’t respond to you in particular.

2. Limits on Back-and-Forth

A back-and-forth style of conversation, in which each person continues to respond to the last thing the other said, is the most effective way in making sure both parties keep an open mind. The more “rounds” the conversation goes, the better. Up to a point. (A “round” is when Person A says something and Person B responds.)

After five rounds of this back-and-forth, it becomes statistically impossible for anyone to change their mind. After five rounds of detailed responses with no movement, it’s best to just abandon the conversation and seek another.

3. More Arguments = Better, Mostly

As mentioned in the first point, the more arguments a viewpoint has in the same discussion, the better chance there is of changing someones mind to that viewpoint. However, that comes with a caveat.

If multiple people jump in on the same thread, and try to argue for the same point rather than creating their own in a new thread, they will provide no additional value. This form of helping actually does nothing to move the conversation forward.

4. Keep Calm

This should be obvious, but using emotionally charged or extreme words will harm the chances you will change someone’s mind. It is best to keep your language calm and pleasant.

The authors of this study were sure to remind people that it is never, ever useful to either directly or indirectly insult someone or their beliefs. Saying, “If you don’t believe X, you’re Y,” with ‘Y’ being a negative, is the quickest way to induce the backfire effect and cause the person you’re trying to convince to be even more confident in their current beliefs.

5. Keep it Long and Detailed

For both people in the conversation, it is most advantageous that they be as detailed and thorough about their beliefs as possible. Sometimes when someone elaborates on their full opinion, with every point laid out, that alone is enough for them to change their mind.

If you, as someone trying to change the mind of another, give as much detail as possible. It not only increases the chance of the other person understanding you and accepting your perspective, it also helps to avoid the famous backfire effect. If you don’t go through your full opinion, the other person will find it easier to use internal rationale and reject it.

6. Make It Pretty

Online discussion provides the opportunity to make discussion look pretty. Using bullet point summaries and formatting links in an aesthetically attractive way gives your arguments greater value.

In my previous post on real world conversation, I mentioned that referring to sources can create the backfire effect. This is still true online. However, if the person you are talking to is open to change but is struggling to understand your perspective, sources help.

That is to say, if the person you’re talking to is using all of or most of the points in this study; calm language, detailed arguments, and well-formatted responses, then links are more likely to have a positive effect rather than a negative.

To simplify, linking to sources only works in online arguments when both parties are open-minded. Referring to sources in real world conversation is highly unlikely to have a positive effect, and very likely to produce the backfire effect.

7. Use the Right Language

When someone uses first-person pronouns such as “I,” they are much more likely to be open-minded. The same goes for if they are using dominant words that evoke feelings of power and success such as “completion,” “smile,” or “win.”

People who use bold lettering to highlight key points, are more open to change. If they use valent (pleasant) words, such as “lovable,” “sunshine,” or “beautiful,” they are also more open to change.

On the other hand, if someone uses first-person plural pronouns such as “we,” this indicates they hold a diluted sense of responsibility towards a group for the view they are espousing. Meaning, they expect you to be able to convince the whole group before you convince them. Which is obviously impossible.

And last, as mentioned before, extreme uses of words like “terrorism,” “theft,” and “criminal” in situations that do not directly refer to the standard use of those terms (as in, using them as an insult or emotional additive) suggests a person is not open-minded, or will harm your ability to change their mind.


Breaking this down into one pitch, the best way to change a persons mind on the internet is as follows:

Keep your language calm and pleasant. Provide as much detail as possible on your every perspective regarding the topic. Do not jump in on an ongoing conversation and repeat the points/argument already being made. Use bullet points, bold words, and pretty formatting. If the conversation goes for more than five rounds, it’s over.

If the person you’re trying to convince also uses these standards, it’s a sign that they are more open to change. Only use links as sources if they are following these standards as well.

This is only one perspective on the issue of conversion and salesmanship regarding the trading of ideas. Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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  1. Clearly you’ve never participated in this comment section….

  2. Integrals  I don’t give it any serious attention.

  3. eglove Integrals That’s probably a wise course to take, Ethan. But I expect that the rest of us will soon be dogpiling Jacks and Matthew once they predictably call you a homo and accuse you of plagiarism.

  4. What high school text book did you rip this article off?

  5. Jumping Jacks  The original study is linked. It was written by Chenhao Tan, Vlad Niculae, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and Lillian Lee. I believe they’re recent Cornell grads.

  6. eglove Jumping Jacks Sorry guy but I find it impossible to believe you understand any of this article. Instead of plagiarizing an article, why don’t you write the article again in your own words.

  7. Drac Vermell eglove Integrals Your precognitive abilities are amazing!  Yet very predictable…

  8. Jumping Jacks eglove You know Jacks, I wonder why you’re so pleased with yourself that you still don’t know what plagiarism is? It reminds me of the time when you confused benzodiazepines with opiates. Remember that, Jacks? Boy, that was really funny.

  9. Jumping Jacks You could always compare.

  10. Integrals Drac Vermell eglove Well unfortunately Integrals, it seems that I was only half right. I guess the recent string of humiliations Matthew has suffered has finally broken his confidence. It’s quite unpleasant to watch, isn’t it?

  11. Drac Vermell Jumping Jacks eglove I see you continue puting words in my mouth that were never said.

  12. eglove Jumping Jacks Compare what? It’s plagiarism.

  13. Jumping Jacks Drac Vermell eglove Ah Jacks, you’ll never tell the truth when a lie will do. Why don’t you click on the link below so you can reminisce? You’ll find the offending statement in your first message. You were naughtily posing as an addiction expert during this thread as well. Not one of your more convincing fibs, was it Jacks?
    “Should a patient take heroin or another benzodiqazepine (sic), the Narcan won’t work.”

  14. Drac Vermell Jumping Jacks eglove Peaches, again your childish off the wall remarks have nothing to do with the article. I wouldn’t expect anything different since you think you are superior to people on this blog. You aren’t but it is funny to watch you make a fool out of yourself. Please continue entertaining us. I enjoy the laughs.

  15. Jumping Jacks Drac Vermell eglove Now, now, Jacks. we both know that you’re not really laughing. The fact that you’re a pathological liar – and that everyone here knows it – has always been a sore spot to you. That’s why you always change the subject when I bring it up, isn’t it?
    Frankly Jacks, it delights me to no end how outraged you get when this is pointed out to you. You utilitarian types can be such humbugs once the notion of “just desserts” is turned back on you.

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