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Logical Fallacies and Other Things You Should Know as a Moderator

Logical Fallacies

Being an online community moderator takes an acute understanding of language and dialogue on a (sometimes frustratingly) nuanced level, all the while striving to understand the full context of something. Here’s a few things I’ve learned that I hope you find helpful to keep in mind!

Ad Hominem Attacks

1. Ad Hominem Attacks

To start off with, I dislike the term “Ad Hominem” for many reasons, and I prefer “personal attack”. Folks may not easily understand Latin (it’s been a long time since latin class for me) and it is rooted in gendered language.

This can be surprisingly tricky, but no one should attack anyone’s immutable traits or characteristics. Make sure the focus of the argument, comment or criticism is on the action, or idea rather than an insult to an individual or person/s.

Straw Man (aka Straw Person) Argument

2. Straw Man (aka Straw Person) Argument

A straw man argument is mischaracterizing or misrepresenting someone’s position. This can be done with the intent of deceiving, or by purposefully oversimplifying a nuanced position, which can be to try to make it easier to critique. The position is meant to resemble the original claim (like a person made of straw) — but it’s not actually the real thing, or claim.

While this can happen unintentionally, often times it can be done on purpose. They may bring up something that the person was never really arguing in the first place. You have to really pay attention to the original claim/s.

Often, you can see both the strawman arguments and ad hominem attacks occur together — in that they would try to discredit, while also trying to disparage someone’s views.

The Streisand Effect

3. The Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect (yes, named after THE Barbra Streisand) can be simply understood that by trying not to draw attention to something, it garners more interest and attention to it.

So, be wary that if you comment, remove, ignore [insert x action here] that you may be inadvertently drawing more attention to the thing. It’s a risk that you should consider and the consequences of such should inform your actions.


4. Generalizing

Broad generalization is mostly based on a hypothetical, and tends to not target anything specifically. Generalizing is lacking any qualifiers and significant evidence to backup a claim, which can risk stereotyping or being simply incorrect.

You will need to pay close attention to when it may cross the line into stereotyping or being harmful. But, I’ve seen that adding the right qualifiers can often turn a generalization into a responsible or credible claim.

Creating Surface Area

5. Creating Surface Area

Are you creating more surface area for yourself? And by surface area I mean, are you making it harder on yourself, giving too much away or adding too much detail when you don’t need to in order to accomplish your goals?

While it is good to be thorough, fair and transparent, often times we over explain, or add in things that may distract from the overall goal and point, which can open us up for additional arguments and problems.

Focus on being to the point, in as clear and simple way as you can. Then, once you’ve tackled one piece, you can add on complexity, details or more asks. For example: when asking for resources or pitching new ideas this can come in the form of successional buy-in, this can also useful when explaining moderation decision/s.

Don’t Bury the Lede

6. Don’t Bury the Lede

AKA — get to the point right away! No TL;DR needed.

It’s important to respect your communities, and the readers, time and energy. You do this by focusing on what’s important to the reader first, while postponing other essential points or facts second. A bad example? All those cooking blogs that tell their life story at the beginning when all we want is the recipe and list of ingredients — which is always at the end.


7. Avoid Bikeshedding

AKA the Law of triviality, is where folks tend to spend time and energy in a discussion around a seemingly marginal or trivial issue. It can also be seen as procrastination.

Don't just dismiss feedback as bikeshedding without digging in to ensure you've considered the other folks perspective, and allowed them to communicate their reasoning. Calling something out as bikeshedding can also be used to silent minority opinions or try to change the topic - it's important to make sure folks are heard and not just dismissed. On the other hand, sometimes it's an easy indulgence to focus on unimportant details while crucial matters go unattended.

At the end of the day, you will have to weigh how much work and time should be put into decisions, and to make sure everyone is heard while also considering all possibilities and their tradeoffs fairly.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what some of your best practices are in the comments.

Discussion (6)

cartergee profile image
Carter Gibson

Oh yes! This is it. I love this Alex.

abo101413 profile image
Alexandra Author

Thanks to long discussions with my teammates Carter, Paul and Thu from which I've gathered a lot of this knowledge from.

mac profile image

This is such a great write up!

gabriel profile image
Gabriel Wilk

What a great peace of knowledge. 🙌

alex123 profile image

This is great, thanks!

abo101413 profile image
Alexandra Author

I added one more that I thought of over the weekend 😅