Why Do People Argue On the Internet?
Sun, April 18, 2021

Why Do People Argue On the Internet?


Have you ever participated in online arguments? Online discussions comprise a multitude of topics under the sun such as jokes, useful information, and more, explained Patrick Freyne of The Irish Times, an Irish daily broadsheet newspaper. Cyberspace is a hub for fueling arguments as you can see university professors argue with climate deniers or Taylor Swift fans fighting with Nicki Minaj fans.

It’s not surprising to see people arguing creatively, compulsively, and with fervent passion. Minor differences in opinion can escalate into incivility. Oftentimes, the best case (and ideal) scenario in online discussions is when fair, pleasant arguments stay pleasant. When Freyne asked internet arguers if they argue more than they did in the past, they announced, “Definitely.”

Survey Sheds Light On Online Toxicity and Behavior (2019)

70% of respondents said Facebook was somewhat a “toxic” social media platform, but 69% of them said ignoring toxic posts was the best course of action and 45% said they would unfriend/unfollow the particular poster, according to a survey by WhoIsHostingThis.com, an online review platform of web hosts and website builders, cited Peter Suciu of business news Forbes.

Other “toxic” platforms mentioned by the respondents were Twitter (60%), Instagram (27%), Reddit (23%), YouTube (22%), Snapchat (11%). 4% of them said that none of the platforms are harmful, stated Toni Allen of WhoIsHostingThis.com.

18% suggested leaving a constructive comment while 17% considered reporting them. Only 7% said they would leave a negative comment in response to the post, adding fuel to the fire. People below 38 years were more likely to get into an argument online (20%); however, 13% of boomers and 14% of Gen Xers were also eager to engage in an online argument.

Participating in a heated debate does not guarantee you a new set of friends, but online arguments could cause users to lose some levels of credibility. 71% said making a threat would result in the loss of all credibility and 25% said it could result in the loss of some credibility. 60% of respondents believed that participating in an offensive debate was another major offense.



To some respondents, other offenses included throwing insults (41%), saying something contrary to the fact (40%), and using foul language or cursing (22%). The most participated online arguments were politics (27%), gun control (13%), race (12%), religion (12%), same-sex marriage (9%), climate change (9%), vaccines (9%), sex/gender (8%), conspiracies (6%), and flat earth (4%).

Regarding the reasons why users do not like the internet, 63% mentioned toxic comments, 50% said cyberbullies, 47% said drama, 45% hated constant negativity, and 43% disliked people’s big egos. Other reasons mentioned by the respondents were too much politics (37%), addictive (35%), makes a person compare oneself to others (32%), anxiety/stress provoking (30%). 30% said many people are anonymous and 28% mentioned the lack of privacy.

“Unfortunately, some people lose their logic filter when they logon to social media,” said Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at TIRIAS Research. When people become disrespectful to everyone, then individuals have the right to filter the speech they choose to hear or not.



The “Rational Communicator”

In the minds of internet utopians, they had what they call a “rational communicator” in which an individual was immersed in a plethora of ideas and argued logically. But in real life, that’s not how (or why) people argue. Psychologist and a professor of psychology at Rider University John Suler posited, “Argumentativeness has been around since the very beginning of cyberspace.”

He told Freyne via email that in the old days, people joined online discussion groups to talk, which sometimes escalated to arguments. Suler noted that arguments were an inevitable part of the online lifestyle. “There are just so many more people online now that it just seems like there is more argumentativeness,” he said.

The Interesting Rationale of People Who Argue Online

People do not engage in online arguments for straightforward reasons or convincing the other party to change their mind, albeit some do. They argue because they are attempting to correct a narrative or a perceived wrong for a silent audience. This audience is potentially vast, but more often than not, they’re actually tiny.

Sometimes, they are not interested in changing someone’s mind but to act like the individuals who share the same mindset as them. Suler agreed, “Cyberspace more easily allows birds of a feather to flock together.”

Social Media Is A Wilderness Where People Can Mark Their Territory

People construct their online activities— and along with the rise of narcissism— enable them to self-consciously align themselves to certain perspectives, observed Dr. Ciaran Mc Mahon of the cyberpsychology research center at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Institute of Leadership.

He said users mark their personal corners on their social media profiles. It’s not easy to fence off online commenters. Once someone has read what you wrote online or typed a comment, you can glean that the internet is a contested space between individuals, perceiving it as a public sphere, stated Mc Mahon.  In the internet, it is natural for disagreements and misunderstandings to occur due to “online disinhibition,” said Suler. He added, “When you cannot see or hear the other person, the lack of visual and auditory cues tends to make people more bold in what they say.”

There are even instances when the arguer forgets that a real, breathing human being exists behind the screen. When you can’t see someone’s facial expressions, how can you tone down your argument? Others tend to project their own expectations and anxieties towards the arguer due to the reduced “presence” of the other party. Such projections occur as a result of missing verbal and facial cues.

Thinking of Staying Away from Online Arguments?

You have to acknowledge that not everyone thinks the same way as you, reminded Shana Swain of HuffPost, an American news and opinion website. You’ll find out that the people in your friends list do not agree with some of your stances in issues. Even if you argue online, does it really matter? Is it that important to you?

Besides, changing someone’s opinion takes time as you need to convince them with a “straight, logical, clear argument,” said Mc Mahon. However, this only happens in a small number of cases when the individual has no opinion and when they are open to be persuaded. “Presenting a person who already has an opinion with a list of facts about how they’re wrong is seldom effective,” he added.”

Online discussions are rarely civil; in fact, don’t expect users to act civil towards their peers. Be warned that there are users who want to spread negativity or waste your time with fruitless discussions. Cyberspace is the new battlefield, and it’s up to you if you want to engage in heated (and often futile) debates. Do you think it will be worth it?