As I wander around the blogosphere, variously reading and sharing opinions and facts, I far too frequently come across a phenomenon I’m going to call “Battle Links”. You’ll be familiar with this, especially if you’ve ever accidentally found yourself in the middle of an online “discussion” about the relationship between vaccines and autism.
Usually it follows this mold: One side makes a claim, and backs it up with a link. The other side refutes the claim and… backs it up with a link. Pretty soon the discussion degenerates into people posting links instead of discussing the point at issue. Whoever stops posting links first supposedly loses the argument, under the assumption they can’t reply with sources to back them up. A particularly annoying variation is when people selectively quote an extremely long piece from the link, and then state that if you want to get more information you should go read the rest of the (also very long) piece.
One of the tricks of Battle Links is that it either bores or confuses your opponent (and audience) into silent submission: They can no longer be bothered reading through each biased or ridiculously long piece you have linked to, or the link is so far off point that it makes no sense within the discussion.
Once people realise they’re watching Battle Links, they’ll just start scrolling down, looking for some substantive content or argument. And then realise they haven’t updated Facebook in the last hour. Or go turn that cute thing their cat did earlier, into a “I Can Haz Cheezburger?” poster. Either way, you’ve lost them.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t back up what they’re saying. But the fact is, the internet can be used to back up pretty much any conceivable claim. There are reputable and original sources, and there are well researched opinion pieces, and those are all very valuable. But before you link to them, you should clearly state the argument or fact you are trying to prove, and why. Anyone who reads what you have written, should be able to understand you without having to click on the link, unless they specifically want detailed explanations and source material for further research. Links should not supplant reasoning.
At the end of the day, endlessly posting links to reply to links, only proves the point that finding a link proves very little, except that you know how to use Google.