PERSPECTIVES: Are We Exchanging Ideas Worth Sharing on Social Media?

Try to find the logical flaws in your argument and be open to fixing them. 

From its inception, one of the big boasts about social media was that it would enable greater communication among users, thus facilitating greater discussion among the public. Of course, in a democratic society, this should be encouraged, and new technologies to stimulate such discourse should also be welcomed. But, unfortunately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it doesn’t seem like the eating has been particularly good.

We need to ask, “Are we truly exchanging ideas worth saying on social media?” Or, “Are we just shouting our assertions and frustrations into the great cyber abyss?” Answering those questions is essential for understanding the influence of social media on politics and education.

To date, social media is packed with miles and miles of threads that are nothing more than elaborate shouting matches—a giant collection of flame wars with no real net productive gain for any of the involved interlocutors. Indeed, anytime a big relevant topic is brought up, and it soon devolves into a groundhog-day-type flame war apocalypse.

We’re not saying much of value, just repeating stubborn positions. Over again, again. And the most common social media trope is, “Yeah, well, you’re wrong, and I’m right!” So pervasive is this trope that it’s asserted even when it’s not known or clear if one can even be right on a topic.

But there is a deeper problem. If you spend a lot of time on social media (as do we), it becomes evident that many our observations are not logically consistent. In other words, they don’t make a lot of sense.

Why is it important to express logically consistent statements and replies? If you aren’t saying anything logical, what you say has limited value. When you drill down to the content of most of these conversations, it turns out to be a continuous stream of repeatedly dressing up the I’m right/You’re wrong trope that has come to dominate public discourse, albeit dressed in different (illogical) costumes.

When that happens, we’re not discussing ideas. We’re diving into the social media ocean to tell the world that we’re right about everything simply because we demand to be right—because we can’t imagine the possibility that it could be any other way.

Social media is ruthless and unrelenting in this way. It’s a pit, filled to the brim, with logical fallacies in which most swim along with the current of a vortex of illogic leading to the depths of irrationality.

Perhaps the most prominent social media favorite is The Strawman Fallacy, twisting a statement into something it isn’t to make it easier to attack. For example, you can reply to a thread on abortion, “Well, when it comes to abortion, I’m pro-choice.” You’ll only have to wait seconds before reading, “Oh, so what’s it like being pro-murder?

Another massively prominent logical fallacy you’re bound to run into is The Personal Incredulity Fallacy, where someone disagrees with you because they don’t actually understand it and, therefore, can’t imagine you might be saying something worth considering. For example, you might say, “Humans evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees.” Then, someone will post the practically scripted social media reply, “Oh yeah? Well, my daddy ain’t no monkey!”

More frustrating is when you start a discussion only to find a logical contradiction in someone’s argument. In an attempt to support reasoned discourse, you make the mistake of pointing out their flaw in reasoning. Instead of admitting they have an error point, they pull out the Special Pleading Fallacy, explaining why the flaw “isn’t a flaw in this case.”  We all make mistakes in how we work through ideas. The key to reasonable discourse is considering those errors pointed out to us. Of course, there are many more logical fallacies, and most of them find their way to social media in abundance.

We’ve found that a good share of what is being shouted across cyberspace consists of an endless stream of illogic that is profoundly dysfunctional in at least three ways. First, there is little or no honest communication. Second, we are not engaging in public discourse that helps society and supports democracy. And third, we are not using powerful technology to help those engaged to become more informed and thoughtful.

There is no simple solution to this problem, as the beast is already far from its cave. But we can take steps to push back against this slayer of reason. When taking a position on something, the first step is asking, “Is there a way to know who is right and who’s wrong about this?”  Although this might be a difficult question to answer in the grand scheme of things, one approach that can help us decide is to take a step back before posting and ask, “In this response, am I really saying anything at all here?”  Or, more succinctly put, “Did I just add anything useful to the conversation?”

If the answer is “no,” then don’t post it. If the answer seems to be “yes,” then move on to step two and ask yourself, “Does what I’m about to post make logical sense?”  If the answer is “no,” don’t post it. Go back and think again and try to work through the problem.


(Cover photo courtesy of


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