Friday, 3 January 2014

How to not be an idiot arguing with people on Twitter

Writing this guide feels something of a necessity due to the amount of people who have no idea how to have an argument on Twitter without resorting to what can be pretty poor behaviour. Rather than tell each person I see behaving in a poor way, I thought I would write this guide, in the form of a set of informal rules, to save myself some time and maybe help people out...

The Basics

Rule one: Don’t be racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or offensive about someone’s beliefs.
Rule two: Don’t be threatening.
Rule three: Don’t resort to personal insults

The above items should not need telling to anyone. Unfortunately as we are all aware these are quite common on Twitter. Failing to adhere to these basic rules will ensure you get blocked and reported pretty quickly.


A charming individual trolling Twitter looking for attention.

Intermediate level

Rule four: Don’t include someone (@) in a rude tweet - ie don’t write “I think @spinnyoza ie a #¬!-head” if you feel you have to write something abusive about someone, just write “I think @ spinnyoza is a #¬!-head” so they are not included. However, unless you have a private account, Twitter is an open forum and your tweet could get spotted so don’t be surprised if that happens.


 USA Soccer Guy dealing with a rude Tweeter with class.

Rule five: Don’t correct someone’s grammar/spelling. There is only one situation when this is acceptable(ish) and that is when someone has broken one of the first seven rules. Bad grammar does not invalidate an argument or opinion (unless it changes the meaning of the sentence but please refer to rule seven).
Rule six: Don’t tell someone you’re no longer following them (unless they are a friend and you are explaining why so they aren’t offended). Telling people you’re un-following them just makes you look petty.
Rule seven: Do read other people’s tweets sympathetically. If you could read a tweet one of two ways and one way makes them look pretty unpleasant in your eyes, assume they are not being unpleasant or seek clarification. Twitter is a series of short statements and misunderstandings can occur quite easily.
Rule seven B: Don’t deliberately misread the meaning of what someone has said so you can get offended. I have seen a former Tory Politician do this a few times (and I don’t follow them on Twitter). It makes you look stupid and nasty.

Ie – here I could tweet saying that Louise is supporting violence against people who support different political parties to her. However, instead I need to recognise that this is her attempt at a joke.

Higher Level

Rule eight: Don’t make up “facts” or argue without evidence or reason. Pretty straight forward but this tends to happen in politics (and surprisingly arguments on global warming) quite a lot.


A request for facts followed up by a flagrantly untrue statement based on personal prejudice.

Rule nine: Don’t become part of a Twitter Mob. Someone has said or done something offensive or outrageous and you want to express your ire. Don’t grab the pitchfork and join in. So often I’ve seen these mobs misdirected or on a misunderstanding. Just don’t do it.

The Twitter mob finds the wrong Ian Watkins. Thankfully he has the sense of humour of a hero.

Rule ten: Be careful joining other people’s Twitter arguments. I try not to join other people’s arguments but I do support my Twitter friends if they need it. From both sides Twitter arguments can pretty quickly get out of hand. If you need to join in or feel you can add value to the argument, do so as politely as you can.

If in doubt, follow this diagram (via a follower of Wil Wheaton)