Over the years some people have accused me of picking a lot of fights online. Of course I’d say that the fights pick me but either way you look at it, I’ve had my share of experience in virtual dust ups. Recently I’ve been on the outside looking in at a few online battles and I believe I’ve discovered a few rules or laws that are critical to not only surviving but winning these encounters.
So, it is with great pride and the wisdom of many scars that I present to you The Art of eWar (with apologies to Sun Tzu).
Know Your Enemy
There’s an old saying that “knowing is half the battle.” While I personally prefer my own variation “Knowing that your opponent is an idiot is half the battle”, it can still be quite useful to know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses as well as your own. Obviously if you are going to prey on emotion (discussed below) and use it to your advantage, you need to know precisely which nerves to tweak and which toes to step on.
You also need to know who your enemy is allied (friends) with, and most importantly what the central issue is in the war. Knowing your enemy and their allies seems like an obvious point but a mistake here is often fatal. The last thing you want to do is criticize an A-list blogger or some other heavy hitter in your niche, without knowing who you’re calling out. That’s not to say you can never do battle with the big dogs, just be sure the risk you’re taking is a calculated one. “What the hell do you know about search engines? What makes you think you’re an expert?” …. “Oh, you actually ARE a Google engineer huh? Uh…. well.. you’re still a moron” is an embarrassment that would be tough to live down.
Go to Extremes
When engaging your enemy use logic and reasoning to dismantle your opposition’s defenses. Expand their statements or positions to the most broad and extreme cases possible. Statements like “Using that logic, you could justify stealing candy from a baby!” or “So you’re suggesting we just kill off all Mac users?” are mini-victories all on their own and almost impossible to defend.
Prey on Emotion
Stir up emotional responses and force your opponent to divert from their planned course of action. Remarks such as “Didn’t your mom do the same thing you’re criticizing?” or “Don’t you think this is really stemming from your lack of self worth and subsequent overcompensation for your inferior sexual stature?” can send your foe into a frenzied state so far off the beaten path that they’ll never recover. They’ll spend so much time lashing out at you personally in their blind rage that you should easily be able to decimate their position. When dropping these types of bombs, though, be sure they are precisely targeted and preferably relevant. There’s nothing worse than one of these puppies blowing up in your face.
Stick to Your Guns
An often overlooked principle of eWar is to never lose sight of the central issue. Many times (especially if you’ve recently used the previous tactic against them) your opponent will try to distract you or divert your energies by bringing up irrelevant topics or throwing up smoke screens. Never let this faze you. Don’t get bogged down and waste your energy on some trivial point or defending your mother’s brother’s dog’s honor. Keep your message clear and simple. Pound your main point home and you’ll often win the support of any observers, and may even wear your opponent down to the point of conceding.
Choose the Battle Ground
It can be quite difficult to see an eWar coming. The most innocent remarks or actions can spark the fiercest of battles. However, a seasoned eWarrior can learn to distinguish the warning signs and be prepared when the fighting starts. Make sure your first attack is targeted where it will do the most harm. That often means attacking someone before they expect it but may also involve pausing to regroup long enough to establish a game plan if you’re on the receiving end of the attack. Forcing an opponent to do battle on your terms can weaken your enemy before the eWar even begins and will often limit your casualties. If you can move the war from your opponents blog to a neutral site such as Digg, or better yet to your own blog, You take away your opponent’s greatest weapons, the edit and delete buttons.
Lure and Ambush
Use seemingly innocent questions like “wouldn’t you agree that (insert obvious and inarguable point here)” to lure your opponent down the path you’ve chosen. Once they take the bait, use statements like “Since (once again obvious point), wouldn’t you also agree that (insert your point here)” to spring the trap. Once your opponent begins agreeing with you on any level it’s almost always game, set, match. While not all arguments will be this easy, an effective ambush can often lead to swift and efficient victories.
Know When It’s Over
Recognizing the end of a war is just as critical as any action or tactic used in the height of battle. If you’ve won the war, don’t continue to pummel a now helpless opponent. You will tarnish your victory and lose the respect you just spent so much effort winning. If you’ve lost, graciously accept defeat, maintain some dignity (if possible), and live to fight another day. There’s nothing more pitiful than someone continuing to flail away when the battle field is empty and the war is lost. Make sure that pitiful person is your opponent, not you.
And there you have it. The Art of eWar. Use this knowledge wisely and remember, with great power comes great responsibility. If you think I’ve missed the target or left out a critical law, let me know in the comments bellow. Who knows… maybe you’ll get a chance to put these tactics to the test.