I’ve recently been involved in some online political debates—with individuals both well known and unknown. I decided that this would be an opportune juncture to share my thoughts on the nature of debating political issues online.
The items below move from rules that are general and widely applicable, to principles that are personal and mainly applicable to me--though you may be like-minded.
1.) Anything posted on the public Internet (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) is open to criticism. The corollary: If you don't want your political views to be criticized or challenged, don't post them on the public Internet.
2.) The more famous you are, the bigger your platform and more numerous your audience, the more you are fair game for criticism. (This amplifies the effect of #1 above.)
3.) The above two rules notwithstanding, there is a fine line between a legitimate and fair expression of disagreement, and carrying an argument too far. Don’t try to force a debate with the same party everyday, in other words. Once you have established that you and another person have differing worldviews, it is bad form to repeatedly show up in their Twitter feed, YouTube comments thread, etc.
State your argument, have your say…and move on.
4.) An online disagreement about politics should not escalate into a take-no-prisoners, scorched earth, all-out war to the death—in either physical or professional terms.
I disagree with plenty of people online, including other writers. You will never see me calling for the boycott of another writer’s work because they don’t share my political views.
5.) When you publicly oppose a high-profile individual, be prepared for the wrath of their minions. Every popular blogger or Internet personality has a wide circle of toadies who are far more attached to the blogger/Internet personality than is really healthy or normal. When you criticize your main target, his/her followers will immediately go after you en masse, usually in a far more vicious manner than your target will.
It is your choice whether to answer the followers, or to simply ignore them. (There will usually be twenty of them and one of you, so it will almost always be necessary to ignore at least some of them.)
Remember, though, that they are less interested in debating you in any serious way than they are in currying favor with their idol.
6.) When debating someone online, a little bit of snark and sarcasm are permissible. Name-calling, F-bombs, and extraneous ad hominem attacks (such as ridiculing a person’s physical appearance) are not.
7.) For me, online political debates (and culture war blogging) quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. I try to keep this activity at or below 20% of my online presence. It is not my goal to keep my political views a secret, but nor do I wish to be completely defined by them.
8.) In the context of today’s culture war between the social justice warrior faction and the ‘alt right’, my views and temperament land me in the ‘center-right’ category. The question of whether I’m a ‘fascist right-winger’ or a ‘cuckservative progressive’ usually depends on the venue I’m in, and who I’m arguing with. (The most popular political blogs nowadays cater to the extremes, not to the center.)
9.) As I note in #4 above, I’m against ideologically driven boycotts, whether they originate on the right or the left.
That said, I have been adversely affected (as a consumer) by the Twitter feeds of some novelists/actors/entertainers who constantly bloviate about politics. I don't care if a novelist (for example) is a Democrat or a Republican, whether they’re a fan of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or even Bernie Sanders. But if a novelist is too dogmatic, shrill, and mouthy about political issues on social media, I may have difficulty separating the artist from the art.
10.) Joseph Epstein once wrote (I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the writer’s goal should be to explain the world, not to change the world.
It is not my objective to become a partisan political blogger.
With that in mind, I make it a rule to comment on current events only if I honestly believe that I can bring a unique or nuanced perspective to an issue, beyond what is currently “out there”.
Yes, I break my own rule sometimes; but that’s my goal.