When discussions are a waste of time

What might be a benign discussion on Twitter yesterday about password managers triggered me to write this post about a phenomenon that has bothered me for a long time already. So, in short, what was yesterday's discussion about?

Someone tweeted a quote from my previous blog in which I say that password managers are the most secure solution but this doesn't imply they are the best solution. I retweeted it.

And then like it goes on Twitter, someone disagreed. He said something like "Password managers are not the most secure solution".  And he gave arguments to make his point. I disagreed with some of his arguments, told him why and asked what his most secure solution was.

His solution? Remember several passwords for several goals and don't write them down or use a password manager. So reusing passwords that you created yourself (and are always weaker than password generated ones) is more secure than a password manager according to him. This just doesn't make sense.

The underlying reason is because he doesn't trust password managers. From his arguments I also noticed that he didn't do a lot of research about password managers.

We had the same discussion earlier, I guess he just tried to convince me again. Other recurring theme, he didn't even listen to my arguments. After a while he unfollowed me and at the end of the night we both went on managing our password like we did before. I'll let it up to the reader whose passwords are most secure.

Oh yeah and then there was also the usual pile on. This time from someone who thought it was funny to depict a successful security researcher as a nazi last year.

The pattern

There is a clear pattern in this kind of conversations. In this example it's about a blog post, but it can be for any content.

You put a lot of effort into writing about a particular topic, giving it a lot of thought, using facts and your own experience.

Someone who didn't take the effort to do all the research and often didn't read your article says you're wrong based on non factual arguments or the arguments don't take into account the perspective you gave in your article.

You tell them (often several times) that their arguments are incorrect based on the investigation you did before you wrote the article. And you ask them for an alternative.

Their alternative is something you investigated upon and is described in your article. It has several known weaknesses.

They just ignore you and keep on searching for arguments that fit their story.

Either the conversation dies or they tell you you're not open for discussion or being arrogant. I got even accused of 'god like' behavior .

Why I react how I react

This particular behavior is no different then in real life. But just like in real life I really hate it when people act like this. I think it's important to explain why.

First of all when I share content I try to get my facts right and use my own experience wherever possible. I just want it to be of good quality. There are a lot of things I don't know that's why feedback is crucial to learn and improve. That's why I'm always open for a constructive debate. As long as the other's intentions are sincere you can only win from such a discussion. But sometimes I almost know from the start a discussion is going nowhere.

When this happens in real life I try to tell the other party once or twice why I think their arguments are invalid. If that doesn't help and the person doesn't even listen to me I'll just back off and will do something useful instead.

Until now I had a somewhat different approach on Twitter. Mostly because unlike a real life discussion between a few people, on Twitter a lot of people see this conversation. Certainly when someone tweets disinformation or FUD I find it very hard to let that pass.

So it's always a balanced exercise between reacting or not. But it often is a lost battle and it's only draining energy, so I don't feel like engaging in this kind of discussions anymore to be honest.

Another thing that really bothers me is that a lot of people on Twitter just provoke or say nay, but they don't or barely contribute themselves. It's easier to disagree from the side line than publish content and expose yourself to feedback and critique.

What I learned from all this

I have an opinion about a lot of things. That will probably be part of the reason why people follow me. I'm well aware that this also means that people don't like me.

And to be honest I don't care about that. The times that I tried to please everyone are long gone. I am who I am and I try to use Twitter to improve myself and help others by sharing my own experience and best practices. If people think I'm arrogant, that's fine. I can't and won't try to change their opinion. People that really know me, know how I am and that's what matters.

I'm open for a constructive discussion and I welcome everyone to prove me wrong when I am. Getting genuine, constructive feedback is an important way to improve.

I also will do some things differently. I already closed my DMs some time ago and I decided to not try to answer every mention anymore. But I've introduced a new Twitter best practice for myself. When I feel like someone just wants to provoke, troll or push his meaning without being open for debate, I'm out of the conversation.

It's this kind of behavior, together with all the other bullshit going on on Twitter can be mentally draining. I notice that a lot of really clever people are not (very) engaged anymore on Twitter. And that's a shame.

John Opdenakker

John Opdenakker

Blogger | #Infosec | #AppSec | Security awareness | Occasional Public Speaker | Cycling | Running | Enjoying life