Before we had internet access “old wives tales” were a rife.  Now we have lies and fallacies on social media. Old wives tales included not going out with wet hair or you’ll catch a cold, eating carrots improves your vision and masturbation causes blindness.  It is quite astonishing how many people still believe these things!

Social media lies and fallacies outnumber old wives tales by the thousands. Here’s some advice on how to recognise and debunk them:

Look for the logic in an argument

Anyone who has a Facebook or Twitter account can see debates that sometimes become very heated.  Looking at a person’s profile and posts gives you a fairly good idea of their opinions and what they believe in.  If an argument arises it’s common for insults, the like of which some of us have never imagined, to be hurled.  This is because instead of focusing on the logic of an argument, users attack the person rather than try to logically debate.

For example, calling someone fat or ugly doesn’t advance your argument and does a great deal to diminish it. Provide your adversary with credible evidence as to why you are right. Before posting a link to scientific research ensure the scientist hasn’t been discredited. Credible evidence is not something that Beyonce may have an opinion about even if she has more than 15 million followers on Twitter.

Be the black sheep

As applied to old wives tales, if something is said often enough by lots of people many will choose to believe it.  A popular choice isn’t necessarily a fact or true.  Don’t assume a proposition is accurate solely based on how many people believe it. Instead of being part of the flock, following the lead of others, be the black sheep and research it. Lies and fallacies promulgate on social media faster than any other type.

Avoid the strawman

The strawman argument often occurs in political debate. For example, if you believe there is no pay inequality between men and women, someone might accuse you of hating women.  By deflecting attention away from the alleged pay gap they are not addressing the wider issues of your argument. By trying to over simplify an issue they try to win the argument by shutting you down. Don’t spend any time defending your position of not hating women, keep on track.  Logically and factually present your side and ignore the strawman.

Anecdotal evidence

Personal experience may be useful in some arguments.  However, if a person asserts that all women cheat on their partners, they’re going to have to have a lot more evidence than their own personal experience to back it up.  It’s a bit like saying all bed posts are dangerous because you once stubbed your toe on one!

Keep emotions out of an argument

Social media users can be great at playing on your emotions. If you support controlled immigration you are “lacking in compassion, racist and xenophobic.”  If you don’t support controlled immigration, you are “deliberately inflicting incompatible cultures on your own, making you a traitor and genocidal. “ These arguments don’t address the issue of immigration at all. They seek to shame you and to avoid any logical debate.  If both sides of the debate were presented logically and factually, there might be some chance of finding a solution.

Remember how parents used to try to guilt trip children into eating their meals? Telling them how starving millions around the world would be grateful for the food was a play on emotions. How did they propose getting the food you left on your plate to those malnourished people? They didn’t!

Counteracting lies and fallacies on social media and the internet

Major search engine and social media platforms are constantly trying to find ways to counteract lies and fallacies on the internet.  But we have a long way to go before everything we see on the web is true, if indeed that day ever comes.  In the meantime we have to rely on our own education, common sense and research skills.

Wouldn’t it be great if an online lie detector was invented that automatically identified lies and fallacies on social media?

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