How to Make Your Online Rant More Convincing

July 1st 2016

Tricia Tongco

With the upcoming presidential election and recent Orlando shooting, the political climate is charged with issues from terrorism to gun control to immigration. As a result, you might notice more politically charged posts on your Facebook feed and you might even be motivated to comment on them.

FYI, though, discussing political issues on Facebook could make you seem like the butt of this joke:

But there's hope: A February study from Cornell University suggests that there are certain things you can do to change someone's opinion in an online setting.

In order to find out what effectively persuades people, the team of researchers analyzed two years of posts from the active Reddit community, ChangeMyView, described as follows:

subreddit changemyview

According to the report, here is what you can do to make your online rant more convincing:

1. Have back-up.

When it comes to persuasion, there's definitely strength in numbers. Researchers found that a higher number of people attempting to persuade the original poster increased the likelihood of that person changing his or her opinion. 

2. Comment first.

People who respond first to the original post have a higher chance of persuading the original poster than people who write a response later, researchers discovered.

3. Write a long and calm reply.

Language and delivery matters – a lot. The study found that replies that were longer and/or used calmer language were more convincing. 

4. Go back and forth with the original poster – but not too much.

The threshold for the number of exchanges in an online debate is five rounds of back-and-forth comments. After that, there is almost no chance that the original poster will change his or her mind. The report offers some explanation: "...perhaps while some engagement signals the interest of the [original poster], too much engagement can indicate futile insistence."

5. Use your own words.

Researchers uncovered that the factor connected to successfully convincing people is to use different language from the original post, signaling a new viewpoint.

6. Use specific examples.

Using "the" rather than "a" and phrases such as "for example," "for instance," and "e.g." suggests that you're speaking in specifics, which is more persuasive than speaking in a general or abstract way. 

7. Include links.

Cue up those stats and news reports: Links to material that support your argument helps, while quotations and questions don't.

With all those things in mind, you're ready to tackle the typically frustrating world of online discourse. But also take note of this important insight from The Post:

"The researchers point out that, even in this reddit forum where people are expressly charged with being open-minded, opinions don’t change in the majority of cases..."

To read more about the study, including how you can tell if it's possible to change someone's mind in the first place, read the full story from The Washington Post.