One of the worst things you may find yourself dealing with in arguments on social media, especially political ones, is being misrepresented by an opponent in order to discredit you, your beliefs or opinions or make you seem like you have a belief or follow something that doesn’t necessarily apply to you.
People can use a variety of techniques from lying outright to clever strawmanning of your points, categorising you, and using false representation to inspire people to rise against you. It’s nasty and deceitful if purposeful. I hope my system helps you in avoiding this kind of nonsense in your debates.
Here is my System for Handling Misrepresentation
1: Stop and Think
When you are arguing, sometimes things get emotional, it’s very easy to respond immediately and emotionally, especially if someone is strawmanning you. You probably feel attacked, hurt and if you are anything like me, really annoyed. You do not like being misrepresented, and rightfully so, it’s hurtful. An immediate response will potentially lead to you misrepresenting yourself, so take your time to respond. Sometimes, your opponent will bring in friends who chime in, don’t respond to any of this until you know exactly how to handle the situation.
Friends of people arguing with you should be ignored, especially if they don’t know you. Feel free to tell them that you are being misrepresented by your opponent if you have to talk about it, and inform them that your opponent doesn’t know what they’re talking about if they are completely wrong. Keep responses short and simple, it saves time and exposes you to less openings for an attack.
2: Ask for Evidence if They are Wrong
If the points being raised against you make no sense or are misrepresented, say for example someone says you have a political leaning or belief, ask them why they believe you have that affiliation, what evidence do they have to back that up? If it is not your leaning or belief, then they will need to prove it, and you can easily dismiss them as being misinformed or wrong if you can support your claims and they cannot back up the argument with any evidence.
Take your time to write your reply and make sure you word it carefully, avoiding adding any information on the topic you are discussing. Addition of information is a bad idea, as I mentioned before, because it gives an opponent potential ammunition, and we want to strip them of their argument, not arm them. Keep things short and sweet and ask them for evidence on their claims. This can help stall the argument and cause your opponent to waste time looking for evidence that is not there. If I’m the rare case that they find something they actually can use, you can discount it as being either not related to your topic or say they are misrepresenting you, and explain why.
3: Get them to Clarify, then Clarify Yourself
Let’s say your opponent accuses you of being left or right wing. One of the most misunderstood arguments of the 21st century when it comes to politics is the meaning of the word. Maybe they are correct and you do fit the category they are trying to use to mar your reputation. Ask them what they mean by left wing, or right wing, or BLM, or whatever the topic actually is. Usually they will state their opinion on their belief, but fail to provide any form of evidence initially.
Now usually they are looking at the stance as being a radical stance, and this is exactly why they are targeting things specifically. Any agenda or political stance is an easy agenda to attack if you make out that it is in it’s radical form. So how do we beat this? Tell the person that their opinion on your stance is wrong. You can evidence this with Wikipedia in most cases quite easily. Neither left or right are bad for example, they are just different ideologies. Once you have thwarted their attack, you can respond by saying: “This is what my belief means to me.” Explain it briefly and keep it very simple.
They may counter with pretty much any evidence they can muster, sometimes information from completely unrelated topics, you should ask them how that specifically applies to you or your beliefs. As they cannot answer for you, this should resolve the issue. You can also agree that whatever they are bringing forth is bad for whatever reason and explain why it doesn’t apply to you.
4: Allow Your Opponent’s Ignorance To Show…Then Strike
Your opponents are most likely to be pretty ignorant – that’s why they’re misrepresenting you in the first place. They either don’t understand you or the subject they are talking about, hence the misrepresentation. Asking them “What do you mean by that?” is a great way to get them to explain their beliefs and opinions, which will open them up to an attack. This is a way to provoke engagement and to get your opponent to rattle off a load of nonsense about why they are misrepresenting you. You can turn any response they give into a weapon against them if u are a good debater.
Once they have opened themselves up, you can now systematically destroy every part of their argument that you can safely touch. Wherever they have made a mistake, you can point out, and ask for clarification on why they think this applies to you. At this point, you can and should tag their friends in the responses. It’ll help your opponent look pretty stupid, and should bring a swift end to your debate. If there is no food, piranhas aren’t happy.
Keep Things Short and Simple
By keeping all replies short and simple, but asking for clarification on an opponent’s beliefs, you burn a lot less of your time and can keep things incredibly direct whilst not giving your opponent much room to manoeuvre. Focus on the positive sides of your belief, such as if you are left wing, you can say you are for egalitarianism and social equality because you believe in the good it does for society. If you are right wing, you can say your family is traditional and you believe in economics and inevitable social hierarchies. Both of these political stances are great and very simple. Neither is the crazed Nazi or Communist rhetoric consistently screeched about on social media.
Whatever your cause, pick out the moral stance and say: This is what I believe because morally, it’s the right thing to do. Being a very moderate right winger, I often have to argue with left wing people who always say: The economy isn’t worth more than people… I usually have to point out that a good economy benefits the people more as it provides cheaper food and houses and better wages, so there’s a moral argument for everything. No one wants to see people deprived of food and shelter, and the moderates on both sides of the coin generally just reach different conclusions of what could help.
Whatever happens, never get angry or emotional. Just keep things short and sweet and avoid giving in to frustration when people are being absolutely stupid. Take care of yourself and try not to panic. Worst case scenario, respond infrequently, leaving a lot of time per message, and sometimes your opponent will just get bored and give up. Good luck!