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In the cultural debate of ideas on social media, what makes the ideas expressed persuasive and memorable? Aristotle proposed there were three principles used in making an argument: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Some 2300 years later, Aristotle’s three principals are present in social media’s online content where posts compete for attention by being credible (ethos) sensible (logos) or emotional (pathos). From politics to natural disasters, from celebrity opinions to direct merchandise, the links on social media have been designed as persuasive pieces to convince users through their claims of reason or virtue or empathy.
The speeches in a debate will identify the different positions on a topic, but what makes the speech for one side more persuasive and memorable? That same question was asked thousands of years ago when the Greek philosopher Aristotle in 305 BCE wondered what could make the ideas expressed in debate be so persuasive that they would be passed from person to person.
For Aristotle, a good argument would contain all three. These three principles are the foundation of rhetoric which is defined at Vocabulary.com as:
“Rhetoric is speaking or writing that is intended to persuade.”
These principles differed in how they persuaded:
Today, teachers may ask students that same question about the many different forms of speech contained in today’s social media. For example, what makes a Facebook post so persuasive and memorable that it receives a comment or is “liked”? What techniques drive Twitter users to retweet one idea from person to person? What images and text make Instagram followers add posts to their social media feeds?
The book Engaging 21st Century Writers with Social Media by Kendra N. Bryant suggests that students will think critically about the different argument strategies through platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.
Teaching students how to analyze their social media feeds for ethos, logos, and pathos will help them better understand the effectiveness of each strategy in making an argument. Bryant noted that posts on social media are constructed in the language of the student, and “that construction can provide an entryway into academic thought that many students may struggle to find.” In the links that students share on their social media platforms, there will be links that they can identify as falling into one or more of the rhetorical strategies.
Teaching students the principles of ethos, logos, and pathos in social media illustrates how posts are made persuasive and memorable.