Twitter is full of people having squabbles with each other and accusing others of using a straw man argument, but what does this mean?
A strawman is a harmless, lifeless and helpless scarecrow and an easily defeated effigy.
A strawman is also a fallacious argument that distorts an opposing stance in order to make it easier to riposte. This is where someone will exaggerate, misrepresent, or just completely fabricate someone else’s argument because they can then present their own position as being ‘reasonable’. It demonises someone’s view and discredits it.
Here is how a ‘strawman’ works:
- Twitterer ‘A’ states their position.
- Then, Twitterer ‘B’ presents a distorted version of Twitterer A’s original position and pretends that there’s no difference between the two versions.
- Twitterer B attacks the distorted version of Twitterer A’s position, and acts as if this invalidates Twitterer A’s original argument.
Twitterer B creates a strawman, which is a distorted version of their opponent’s original argument and this makes it easier for them to attack their opponent’s stance.
When someone’s argument is made of straw then it is easier to attack this lifeless bundle and take it apart. Those that engage in this tactic deliberately can deceive others and cause a great deal of misinterpretation and harm.
A strawman can be done accidentally though because someone may oversimplify a nuanced position or twist a cautious claim.
Strawman arguments usually end up in the playground with ad hominem attacks. This is where someone attacks their opponent’s personal characteristics and traits, physical appearance, background or other features in an attempt to undermine their argument.
For example, I had someone attack me because they disagreed with an article I had written about ADHD and they then when onto to talk about my cancer which obviously had nothing to do with the content of the blog. Yes, that’s how low it can get.
Twitter dogs use attack-language to fight and weaken their opponent and things on both sides can soon get very personal.