Civil Discourse: Intelligent Arguing on Social Media

By Laura Allen
March 1, 2018

Civil Discourse: Intelligent Arguing on Social Media

By Laura Allen
March 1, 2018

There are numerous groups devoted to massage on social media. Personally, I have stopped participating in most of them because it raises my blood pressure to see (or participate) in some of the claims that are made. Many discussions escalate into arguments, complete with insults and name-calling. As many of these groups are open to the general public, not just massage therapists, some of these arguments would probably make people think twice about getting a massage.

My favorite group, Skeptical Massage Therapists on Facebook, ask you to provide evidence for claims you are making about massage (or other modalities or treatments). A lot of people think that their personal belief is fact, whether that is so or not, and present it as such.

Critical Thinking & The Arguments

A fallacy is a mistaken belief or reasoning that is logically unsound. There are over 200 different types of fallacies, and I see many of them used on a daily basis when defending a myth of massage, or any other type of argument. For argument's sake (pun intended), here is a statement and some of the fallacies used to argue the case. Statement: Massaging a woman's ankles can cause a miscarriage or induce labor.

Argument: "This has been known in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years." Fallacy: Appeal to traditional wisdom (or appeal to antiquity or past practice). Just because something has been believed or practiced in the past is not proof that it was ever true.

Argument: "But my massage teachers taught me this in school," and/or "it was taught in the CE class I took from a famous pregnancy massage instructor." Fallacy: Appeal to authority. Some teachers are guilty of teaching the same thing they learned years ago in massage school, without ever having questioned it.

Argument: "My client's baby was a week overdue and I did a reflexology session on her, and she had the baby that night." Fallacy: The single cause—assuming that there is an outcome because of one reason, when in fact there can be any number of reasons—including the fact that the baby was overdue and may have been delivered if no session had taken place at all.

Argument: "It just goes to show how uneducated you are, because you only work in a hair salon, or you would know this is a fact." Fallacy: Ad hominem—making an attack on the person with an irrelevant fact that attacks the person's credibility, but does not undermine the person's reasoning.

Argument: "I had a miscarriage the day after I got a massage." Fallacy: Anecdotal—making an assumption that this was the cause of the miscarriage, when there is no evidence of any kind that supports massage causing miscarriage, and it could have happened for any number of reasons.

Argument: "Everyone at the school of traditional medicine I attended believes massaging the ankles is dangerous to a pregnant woman." Fallacy: Appealing to popularity. Just because a lot of people believe something doesn't make it so.

Argument: "You should prove to me that massaging a pregnant woman's ankles won't cause a miscarriage in the first trimester." Fallacy: Burden of proof. The burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim. It is not on someone else to disprove it.

These are only a few of the dozens of fallacies that exist. The example of the original statement, "Massaging a woman's ankles can cause miscarriage or induce labor," is only one of the dozens of myths of massage that exist. I was taught the same thing 20 years ago in massage school.

Finding the Proof

Although it may make some people uncomfortable to ask for proof of a claim, we would all be better off—and so would our clients—if we did just that. Blindly accepting everything you hear, no matter what the source, is displaying a lack of critical thinking—an objective analysis and evaluation in order to reach a conclusion.

We all have our own individual experiences, which is why anecdotal evidence is the least reliable form of evidence. We all have our own biases. We may tend to believe something because we really like the teacher or other person telling us about it, and we don't want to question them, lest they feel that we're calling them a liar.

In fact, many internet arguments end in hurt feelings because someone doesn't like the "tone" of the person asking them for evidence. It is an issue on social media or internet forums that you're not having face-to-face contact, you can't read body language, and you can't actually "hear" that tone.

Short of someone calling you a moron or telling you you're stupid—which is another all-too-common occurrence when an argument deteriorates—leave "tone" out of it. If you made a wild claim like "I was abducted by aliens last night and impregnated by them," you can probably expect someone to ask you for proof of that. It's no different when making any other type of claim.

The last fallacy mentioned above, burden of proof, is just that. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim—without resorting to fallacy to state the case, without getting angry because someone asked you to back it up, and without name-calling.

Civil discourse is all about engaging in conversation in order to come to an understanding. It is not about acting childish because someone is questioning how you arrived at your conclusion. If you can't provide some evidence that your statements are anything other than your opinion or a faith-based belief, then just present it as such instead of trying to pass it off as fact.

Resource

  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource. "Fallacies." IEP.utm.edu, Jan 2018.