Ethical Dilemma

I have been a member on many forums, and sometimes I argue a point that is the exact opposite of how I really feel about the issue at hand. I just did it again this morning (not on this forum).

The reason I do this is for intellectual exercise, and to try to better understand the opposite side of the issue, basically to open my mind. But mainly for intellectual exercise – a selfish reason, admittedly.

Except for a small inner circle of online associates who know me, most people who will eventually read those postings think I’m being sincere, and respond accordingly. Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if they would feel taken for a ride if they knew, and also if I do myself a disservice by representing the opposition instead of sticking up for my own cause.

This may not be an issue of earthshattering importance, but I am curious if others do/have done this, if it is fair to the people who take you at face value or if it is unethical.

PS. Sometimes I do the same thing in real life when dealing with people who don’t know me too well.

I do it all the time. For me it’s less about the “exercise” and more about just having a lark. When I see a post in which someone is a little too passionate, I can’t help but be contrary, even if I agree with them.

It’s like telling lies, but worse, because you’re selling out your own beliefs. Furthermore, if you’re ever faced with the need to actually defend a position for which you stand, in earnest, you’re ability to do so will be stunted due to you’re own inability to diferentiate what you really, truely believe from the contrarian viewpoint you’re constantly espousing.

It helps keep your mind sharp, open to new ideas, and gives you a much better perspective on your own ideals. It’s like eaerobics for the ol’ bean.

Reminds me of the debate exercises we did in school. You were assigned a position and you had to defend it, regardless of your personal opinion. I think it’s a perfectly valid means of seeing opposite sides of an issue.

Of course, it carries the responsibility to know your audience. Argue theory all you want, but don’t tell a bunch of cancer patients that the Chemo is killing them and they should be taking Milk Duds instead.

I think it all depends on what you say. If you say (e.g.) “I think the U.S. should reinstitue poll taxes” when you don’t, then that to me is disingenuous. You are presenting yourself falsely, and when people realize it they’ll likely dismiss everything you say. However, if you simply raise questions in response to someone else’s arguments (e.g.) “yes, but what about X, Y, and Z?” or “how would you address the problem of X?” then I think that’s great. You are engaging in debate with the purpose of more fully understanding an issue. In that case, it’s fine if you end up arguing with someone you agree with, because you’re just trying to understand weaknesses in their position.

What Giraffe said, otherwise it’s uncomfortably close to trolling.

Make your position known, but then say “Well, for the sake of arguement…” or “Devil’s advocate…” etc.

I begin to identify with a poster who consistently embraces many of my viewpoints and if others do as well, you’d not want to throw them a curve like that. You can still have your mental exercise, just be up front about your intent.

Admittedly, I for one am not smart enough to go anywhere near Great Debates so take this with a rain of salt.

I side-swap all the time in conversation, but I’m very hesitant to put down false beliefs in writing. That’s where you get screwed.


So, is that what this was all about? If so, it seems almost like trolling (IMHO). The people on this message board who read & reply to posts generally do so in a sincere manner, except of course sock puppets & trolls. Of course, YMMV.

I argue the other side all the time. Actually, in one of my classes last year I got so into the debate that I actually started thinking from the perspective of the side I was defending…it wasn’t until later that I even realized I was doing so.

I’ve come to realize that the purpose of Great Debates is not to help someone else understand your viewpoint, nor even to convince someone of it, but to win points with other posters like the audience on “Crossfire”. In that sense, no, it is not unethical.

No, not OK, as a general rule. It’s OK to argue a point in GD with a bit more passion than you feel, if you’re willing to admit you were wrong. But insulting individuals for sport is not cool, it’s trolling, and you owe an apology to anyone you’ve done it to.

With justification, IMO.

The responses are in. Thank you all for your feedback. The opinions are mixed (not unanticipatedly so). Some think it’s quite all right to argue a point not your own, others seem to feel that I am a blaggard, a blusterer, a belcher, a vile worm not worthy of the bottom of your shoe. Fine. In a minute I am going to thicken a plot a little, but first let me clear up a couple of misconceptions:

chula, I didn’t say insulting. All I said is argue a viewpoint that is the exact opposite of your own. Of course, some more sensitive individuals would take that as an insult, so it’s all in the eye of the beholder. slainte seems to think that points I’ve argued on this forum were of the fake variety. This is not so. I specifically said “not on this forum” when I posted my initial question. Why would I post such a question on a forum where I plan to do this? Any opinion of mine you have read an will read on this forum is really my own.

Now, folks, how about this situation (really happened). I once knew two hardcore trolls who posted on one forum under dozens of different names. Arguing with themselves, creating fake debates (to “enliven things” is what they used to call it. They never called it trolling.) When the occasional legitimate poster came along, they would often pull out all the fake personalities to “gang up” on him for sport. More often than not, these games borderlined on outright cruelty. Eventually the forum administrator caught on, and banned their IP’s. Now, what do you all think about that?

It is probably not uncommon on the web, but as a legitimate poster (allowing for the rather occasional mind exercise I described in the opening post), I feel insulted. Any opinions on these trolls? BTW, what makes them hard to spot for forum administrators and other posters is the fact that their posts really do appear to be legit debates on the surface. Tricky situation.

I’m only going to respond as to how I’d view it on this board. I think it’s a really bad idea. It’s certainly good to explore the other side of the argument, as it can only help to strengthen your own opinions. But you can do that without presenting yourself as someone who holds those beliefs.

In the thread you linked to, we butted heads. That would have been competely avoided had you taken the position of “Well, I’m in agreement, but is it at all possible that X is true? What about Y? Does Z factor into the equation at all?” You’ll find that this forum is more than willing to flip things around, turn them inside out, and explore them, all without having to change your stance. To do so ruins your repuation. People here have very good memories, and will call you on it if you keep it up.

Additionally, someone taking a contrary opinion on a whim tends to shoot from the hip, and not have their facts with them, as you did. When that happens, you’ll end up doing more backpedelling than discussing. In the long-run, the honest poster is going to irradicate more self-ignorance than the pretender.

I’ve seen people around here tell the other posters that they’re playing devil’s advocate, thereby staying true to their own beliefs but still stirring the pot.

munch, darling – nice try. However, I am not going to let you put me on the defensive. I had a heated point-by-point response to everything you say ready, but decided against it. This board has almost 27,000 members, and you are singling out this newbie, following me around from topic to topic. If you did not like my viewpoint in that other string, too bad. I will not lose any sleep over it. You’ve got your opinion, and I’ve got mine. Variety is the spice of life. One thing you will learn about me is that I will speak my mind and I will not be bullied. You will not see me post a whole lot, because my time is limited, and forums are a little side hobby to me that I don’t take too seriously. But, rest assured, I will be around. And also – I will also not let you change the subject.

Now, back to the point: Has anyone ever experienced problems with people who post under multiple names? Has anyone ever engaged in that type of behavior themselves? And what are some opinions about this type of thing in general? Is it excusable because on the net anyone can pose as anyone they want? Or is it unfair to those who think they are talking to a sincere person? Or does it not really matter either way because we are just discussing opinions with a computer, and it really makes no difference, who is at the other end because it is so easy for anyone to misrepresent themselves? I have my personal opinion to each and every one of these questions, but first I’d like to hear some others.

Jeez, paranoid much?

Read my post again. I’m not trying to reestablish the argument or rebuff you here. You’ll notice you were the first to bring that thread up. I can only assume the reason you brought up that thread was because you were doing there what you described in the OP for this thread.

Calm down, and take my post simply as advice. EchoKitty said basically what I tried to say, but much more simply. If you want to represent a different side of the argument but not misrepresent yourself, simply say you’re playing devil’s advocate.

EchoKitty said it less offensively, you should have said. But, I am willing to bury the hatchet. Let me explain a little more thoroughly what my point is with this entire debate:

I usually hold very strong, unorthodox, anti-mainstream opinions. Not on absoloutely everything, but on quite a few subjects. Occasionally, I have tried to present myself from the viewpoint of the opposition, meaning espousing with (fake) enthusiasm the more mainstream (often akin to more “goody-goody” or "conformist) view, for the reasons I have listed above. It can actually be quite mind-opening, and on occasion it has led me to soften an opinion for real. So, in a sense it is a therapeutic thing to do that helps both you and others.

However, because my unorthodox views often challenge people’s established worldviews, they can become threatened and cantankerous by what I have to say. So I am used to dealing with quarrelsome people, and I know how to handle them. That may be as simple as getting to the point where I just don’t respond to them anymore and ignore them. Drives them nuts every time.

Now, back to the subject (the second subject – the one I raised in the middle of the string). Trolls who post under multiple names for the sake of creating fake “debates” (with themselves) and/or ganging up on legitimate posters. It’s a real problem. Maybe some people don’t care about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going on, and possible quite wide-spread. I knew a pair that got off on that sort of thing 24/7 – both were on public assistance and had nothing better to do. They bragged about it openly and showed no remorse when they saw their victims squirm. Quite the contrary. It gave them the sense of status they so sadly lacked in real life.

As a student of human nature, I would like some others’ opinions on what makes such trolls tick, and what people who have encountered that type of situation have done to deal with it. Onward and upward.


Enough already. If these “victims” are squirming about being bullied by some nameless screen name, they should stop worrying about it an stop posting on message boards.

For what its worth, not many people will take you seriously when you brag about your “strong, unorthodox, anti-mainstream opinions.” It sounds to me that your “opinions” are not only weak, but conformist and unoriginal. Maybe you should find another pastime with which to amuse yourself.