Monday, September 10, 2012

How to deal with people who disagree: 4 types you need to know

Beware of trolls
Beware of trolls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As a critic of scams and potential scams, I very often run into people who don't agree. They generally fall into four categories:
  • Sincere arguers -- they don't agree, but they are polite and point out your mistakes, and when you point out their mistakes they'll concede that you had a point, and you narrow down to where there's not enough data and what is there can be interpreted either way, and call a truce.
  • Misguided enthusiasts -- they are sincere about their disagreement, but they're not so polite, and often repeats what other people say without critical thinking, and often they don't react logically as well, esp. when you point out they used fallacies, or red herrings, and some such.
  • Scammers -- they know they're lying or using fallacies, but they don't care. When you point out their problems they may turn into trolls, or just leave (in a huff?)
  • Trolls -- they're just out to rile you, not to really defend anything
So how do you deal with them? Depends on which type they are. 

Sincere Arguers

Sincere arguers don't agree with you, but are usually open-minded enough that they will attempt to engage you with logic (or what they think is logic), based on what they know. However, often their logic are actually fallacies. If you engage them politely and explain where they went wrong, and so on, they may even concede defeat, or leave politely. If they won't concede, you can always "agree to disagree".

Beware that a lot of misguided enthusiasts act like sincere arguers. It is how they respond to their mistakes pointed out that show who they really are. 

Misguided Enthusiasts

Misguided enthusiasts are the people who "know just enough to be dangerous". They think they know a lot, but they actually know very little, and they fit what they know around their beliefs. They believe enthusiastically, even fervently, and they are honest. Unfortunately, their lack of facts and lack of critical thinking often lead them to just repeat whatever they are told (often by scammers, see next section) and you basically have to teach them skepticism 101, and why skepticism is a virtue, not negativity. 

Furthermore, when you show them that what they believed was wrong, they get cognitive dissonance, and there's no telling how they will reconcile the conflicting "truths" in their head. Backfire effect happens quite often (that instead of accepting whatever they believed was fake, they reject reality and believe even deeper what they believed in before). 

To deal with misguided enthusiasts you have to treat them with kid gloves, and try to lead them one step at a time toward the "real" reality and away from their beliefs. If you shock and awe them you're more like to get the backfire effect. Instead, take baby steps, get them to agree each step, eventually show that what they believe was wrong, and the "real" reality makes much more sense.

The problem is a lot of scammers will act like misguided enthusiasts (it's a simple enough disguise), until you lead them so close to the truth they no longer have wiggle room. 


Scammers know they are lying, and argue with logical fallacies, concealed evidence, and when those fail, they may even resort to character assassination, hacking, filing fake takedown notices to domains, even hack attacks, against you.

Scammers rarely engage you in debates directly, preferring to play the puppet master, and convince a bunch of misguided enthusiasts to argue with you instead. Their propaganda tools work only on sheeple, not skeptics. However, some very proud ones may choose to engage the skeptics directly with propaganda (mainly as gesture to others) and when they go on long-winded advertorials and got banned, they claim that is "censorship" and play the part of a "victim" for sympathy (yet another propaganda tactic).

When spotted and revealed, scammers often turn into trolls (see next section) or disengage entirely. 


In general, the best advice to deal with trolls is don't feed them. These two sayings apply:

Never wrestle with a pig: You both get all dirty, and the pig likes it. 

Never argue with an idiot. 
They drag you down to their level then beat you with experience. 

If you must deal with a troll, never react with anger, which is what they are looking for. Instead, react with amusement and light mockery. Trolls don't like being on the receiving end of jokes.  Troll will often become angry (instead of causing anger) and get banned for some outrageous behavior, or leave because it's no fun playing with people who sees through his tricks.

Oh, and here's a great comic panel that explains the troll:

So how do you tell them apart?

Trolls are pretty self-evident: they post stuff that if spoken, would require their mouth washed with soap.

Initially, it is best to assume that your opponent is a "misguided enthusiast", and indeed most people are. Use gentle engagements to ascertain their type.

If a misguided enthusiast actually concedes points, and supports his/her points with good logic and evidence, and recognizes bias on both sides, then you may have a genuine sincere arguer.

Scammers rarely engage skeptics directly, and when they do, they are usually disguised as a misguided enthusiast. To tell them apart, a misguided enthusaist, when faced with a gentle mistake, will often realize they  are wrong, but change topic, like "Okay, I was wrong about that, but this is something else..."   Scammers don't usually recognize their own mistakes.

So the decision tree is as follows:

Y = misguided enthusiast, continue
N = troll

Armed with facts and logic?
Y = sincere arguer
N = possible scammer, continue

Recognizes own mistakes?
Y = misguided enthusiast
N = scammer

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