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Some thoughts on arguing the facts, and social media.

reptile logic

An imposter among aliens.
In a classical argument form, to put it simply, the person or group making the claim must also take on the burden of providing proof of that claim.

Here's an exaggerated example of an argument, face-to-face:

At a party, Jim Slim claims that he owns a 1964 Cadillac. Sandy Clipswitch decides to call, "Bullshit."

Jim then shows Sandy a photo of him with the car.
Sandy says, "That could be anyone's car, or the photo could be faked, or you might have owned it, but now you don't." Technically, any of these counter arguments might be correct, but not extremely likely.

Jim then asks a friend of his to come over and asks her, "Do I own a 1964 Cadillac?"

The friend answers, "Yes, a very pretty one, too," and walks away. Jim's argument is getting stronger.

Sandy replies, "You could have asked her, or paid her, or maybe even blackmailed her into answering that question that way." Again, Sandy could be correct, but the odds are against her.

Jim then escorts Sandy out to the parking lot, takes out his key, unlocks the door of a 1964 Cadillac, and climbs in. His argument is stronger still.

Sandy replies, "That still doesn't mean that it is your car, you might just have a key to it. Even if it was yours, it might belong to someone else, now." Sandy could be right, but even less likely than before.

Jim then opens the glove box, pulls out the registration, and points to the name and the date of renewal; three days ago. "I just renewed the tags. Why would I do that if it weren't my car?" The argument is a bit stronger, still.

Sandy (obnoxiously stubborn, and enjoying the feeling of making people work) says, "Doesn't mean that your the title holder."

The next day, Jim takes Sandy to the DMV and proves that the title is, according to the state, still in his possession.

Sandy, who hates to be caught being wrong, claims, "This is all a conspiracy; put together for the sole purpose of convincing me that you own that car!"

At this point, Jim has effectively won the argument. In reality, he won it some time ago. Though it could all be some clever plot to convince Sandy that Jim owns a Cadillac, the likelihood of this being factual are close to zero. Even if Sandy never concedes, Jim has done more than his part to establish that his argument is, indeed, factual.

Now, here's how it often works in the social media world:

Sandy boldly claims to the world, "Jim Slim keeps chickens in his bedroom, lots of them! No telling what he does with them!" Sandy is popular online, so this statement, though completely false, immediately gains credence among many, or hundreds, or even thousands of people. Some of those folks then share that story; it becomes 'truer' with each telling.

Just like that, the burden of proof has somehow shifted onto Jim's shoulders. He is now forced to try to prove that he has no chickens; in his bedroom or anywhere else on his property. He should not have had to do this; Sandy should have to prove it. Still, due to public exposure, it falls on Jim now. If he does nothing, that only 'proves' his guilt in the eyes of the public.

Even if Jim shows the world photos, or better yet, a video of his house and grounds, with no chickens, all Sandy, or any other involved now, has to do is make a statement like, "That's can't be your house," or, "You removed the chickens and cleaned up before recording the video," or, ". . ." The world is now of the opinion that Jim keeps chickens for nefarious purposes and there is little that Jim will ever be able to do to sway that public opinion.

Though this tactic, this switching the burden of proof, is not new, by any stretch of the imagination, social media has given this underhanded tactic more power than it ever had before.

It happens all the time, now, and it only makes humanity all the worse for it.