In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Rise of the Androids

Can debating by algorithm be observed on social media? (Edited: RGB)

Can debating by algorithm be observed on social media? (Edited: RGB)

One of the most memorable elements of my university life, apart from learning and researching mathematics, was being involved with the university debating society.

I met many good and fun people. I grew in my understanding of how to construct arguments and how to discuss politics and morality effectively.

On social media, debates are not conducted in the British parliamentary system.

In its place, individual threads weave and wander through a chaotic tapestry.

On these platforms, many people appear to be mistakenly using debating argot, and robotically responding towards propositions.


When I posted a short defence of Goldsmiths Students’ Union Officer Bahar Mustafa, I received replies of a similar flavour and fervour.

I stated:

Free association means exactly that. Conferences of these kinds exist to pursue specific conversations.

This was met with:

Please stop conflating by taking a minor meeting and calling it a Conference!

I Don’t #supportbaharmustafa


This is not a conflation.

A conflation is the amalgamation of two distinct concepts, similar to an equivocation.

The same argument espoused — that of free association and the pursuit of political discussions — applies to both a “minor meeting” and a “Conference”.

Therefore, these two concepts are connected and related, as they are both meetings of political activists.

At most, this is a catachresis: a misuse of words.

“Moving the Goalposts”

Later in the discussion, both this person and another entrant decided to accuse me of “moving the goalposts”.


It is the informal fallacy of demanding more and more points be addressed, where the first counter-argument had been satisfied.

There is a large chasm between “moving the goalposts” and seeking a non-semantic engagement with the initial argument.


The goalposts have remained in the same spot: their existence has merely been reiterated.


Abi Wilkinson, a journalist formerly working for The Mirror, also garnered these robotic responses.

When seeking to logically justify why a person may morally steal from a child, Ms Wilkinson set out:

Your family is starving. What’s morally right:

– letting them starve

– stealing a kid’s bike to buy food.

This “super simplistic example” was met with:

Fallacy of bifurcation. Your position is invalid.


In this case, Ms Wilkinson was offering to highlight why stealing from a child may be the “least bad option”.

I disagree with Ms Wilkinson, but nevertheless, remain polite.

A proper critique of Ms Wilkinson’s proposition may wish to question who gets to decide the moral value of each option.

However, a person’s argument being flawed does not render their position invalid.

This is the fallacy of fallacies.

Honour, Courtesy, Engagement

Contrary to popular perception, university debating societies are not restricted to speaking in static syllogisms or barking ‘fallacy’ at each other.

This argot — “conflation”, “moving the goalposts”, “fallacy” — is meant only as a short-hand for explaining why a person’s argument is incorrect.

Using and misusing this terminology does not make a debater, no more than clutching a calculator makes a mathematician.

These android debaters may mechanically cite these terms but drain the hot blood of debating itself: honour, courtesy and engagement with the discussion.


One comment on “Rise of the Androids

  1. Pingback: Ad Hominem | In Defence of Liberty

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2015 by in Other Interests and tagged .
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