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You’re never going to win that argument on social media

Isabel Williams
Written By
Isabel Williams
You’re never going to win that argument on social media
Artwork by Louise Pau and Simon Tyler

Two groups of people were shown the same data on the death penalty, one group was for and the other group against, both believed the data supported their case. We’ve known about this since 1979, and yet the debate rages online with no resolution.

Confirmation bias happens when someone chooses to believe what they already agree with and ignore what they don’t agree with. If you’d like to fight this bias, whether it’s anti vaxxers or climate change deniers, you need to think beyond the factual argument. Conspiracy theories are but a leaf on a tree with deep, deep roots. To stop the flower from growing, focus on the roots.  

In Matthew J. Hornsey’s article “Why Facts Are Not Enough: Understanding and Managing the Motivated Rejection of Science,” he lays out 6 possible reasons why someone may be choosing to ignore the facts.


A set of ideals that guide how one thinks the world should work. This usually pertains to government or economic policies, e.g. a free market economy.

Vested interests

An individual or group who has a material stake (money, resources) in the issue at hand. An example of this is land developers who don’t want land to be allocated for environmental protection, but rather for commercial use.  

Fear and phobias

To rationalize one’s fears, people may look for a more convincing argument to back up why they choose to avoid the thing they fear. This process can be seen in Hornsey et al’s 2018 study which found that individuals who felt more disgusted by medical-related objects were more likely to hold anti-vaccination attitudes.

Conspiracist worldview

This worldview is defined as people who believe that there are powerful organizations, with malevolent intentions, who execute secret plans to trick the public. An example of this plan is someone who believes the US government is behind the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Personal identity

People’s external opinions on society may be a form of self-expression which represents how they view themselves.

Social identity

This identity is who you are in relation to the group members you associate with. People are motivated to agree with their groups to achieve social connection and reduce uncertainty.

Getting people to see where they are wrong is a hard task, if not impossible. Understanding how these 6 factors, on their own or in combination, influence people’s mind will result in a more impactful message. Some positive examples of this are:

Stop wasting your time trying to educate the tree’s leaves when they aren’t the ones guiding what grows. Also, how do you know you’re reading the facts correctly?