How to shift opinions using online dialogue (Well, maybe) 

Don't sling mud!

By: Amanda Scott, Jan 21, 2019

Arguing in online discussion groups and comment threads is pretty commonplace. But it’s very nearly worthless. Yes, worthless. You’re not going to sway anyone’s opinion with the vicious loop of argument, counterargument, counterargument, counterargument, counterargument… and you get the picture. So when you’re online, how do you go about changing someone’s opinion, or at least getting him or her to consider your view?

  1. Share your opinion! People form opinions based on whether they think other people hold those same opinions. It makes people uncomfortable to be the lone ranger of a particular belief. When you share your stance online, you’re letting others know at least one other person in the world has a different point of view – it could help others out there know they aren’t alone in their beliefs. 

  2. Share often (but, “don’t beat a dead horse!”) The more someone encounters a piece of information, say a certain opinion, the more likely he or she will be favorable to that piece of information. Even if someone only encounters a few comments expressing that opinion, it can influence what he or she thinks is the commonly held view (see No. 1). However, this can be tricky given all the ways we can hide in our own online bubbles surrounded by like-minded people, including blocking, unfollowing, and “hiding” those who we don’t really care to see or hear from. 

  3. Make them question their beliefs (this isn’t as negative as it sounds, I promise!) In psychology there is what is known as the concept of explanatory coherence, which means we form a network of concepts and ideas consistent with our strongly held beliefs. To get someone to begin questioning their stance, start at the beginning of this list. But seriously, develop counterarguments to their most significant sources; share more pieces of information that are consistent with your belief from multiple sources so it’s hard for them to dismiss the information as unreliable. 

  4. Don’t sling mud. Keep your end of the discussion civil – don’t get nasty and be one of the reasons why you thought comment sections were bad! As always, be respectful of others’ opinions if you want them to be respectful of yours. There are other people out there looking to have a civil and respectful debate. 

  5. It’s OK to walk away. Once you’ve shared you opinion, don’t feel as though you have to sit at your computer all night defending your position. Walk. Away. 

None of this guarantees you’re going to change anyone’s mind or opinion. And if it does, it certainly won’t happen overnight or after one interaction. Maybe, at the very least, it will get someone with a different view to really hear your side for once.