Knowing You’re Right Isn’t the Same as Showing You’re Right

The Online Politics 101 rewrite continues! Hot on the heels of Sunday’s observation about the tools not caring who uses them, here’s another addition to the Simple Rules for Online Politics:

Knowing that you’re right isn’t the same as showing that you’re right

The internet is filled with people who think they’re right; for a taste, look at the comments on a popular political story on any news website. But unless you just want to vent your spleen in public, or you happen to have a cable news channel handy in your pocket, certainty alone isn’t enough — most of us in the political space will need to convince other people to join in on the fun.

In most cases, then, politics comes down to persuasion. And unless you can resort to force (“vote for this bill OR ELSE”), you’ll need to find ways to connect with people and bring them around. Sometimes that will involve appeals to logic or to facts (data presented in visual form can be a powerful persuasive tool), but at least as often activists use emotion to sway opinions. Another consideration: sometimes you’ll need to persuade a mass audience, but in many cases your target may be a single legislator, regulator or opinion leader. Fortunately, the internet can deliver all of these kinds of messages to just about any target — your mission is to match the available tools with your particular needs and resources.

Once the “knowing” vs. “showing” formulation popped into my head it seemed completely obvious, but as far as I can tell no one’s written down this idea in quite this way before (at least according to Google, the concept hasn’t previously appeared online). So, I’m laying claim to the idea…mine! mine! mine! But you get to use it at will — just cite e.politics when you do.


Written by
Colin Delany
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1 comment
  • That’s a key insight– that knowing you’re right is not the same as showing you’re right. And to take it a step farther, showing you’re right isn’t the same as convincing someone you’re right.

    To change the mind of someone on an opposing side, it’s essential that they also feel that they have been genuinely heard. Then they’ll be more receptive when someone else tries to convince them of a different opinion.

    The Administration has made some good progress using listening tools such as IdeaScale to govern more effectively; hopefully we’ll see politicians at all levels incorporate in-person and online listenting tools into the next election and beyond.