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What is Nutpicking?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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The increasing popularity of political blogs and online political discussion forums has given rise to a particularly unsavory rhetorical tactic called nutpicking. Nutpicking involves an often exhaustive examination of individual posts in order to find outrageous quotes or provocative statements, particularly from politically liberal contributors. The culled quotes, often presented out of context, are meant to prove that all liberals are irrational "nuts."

The practice of nutpicking has been sharply criticized by sponsors and moderators of many online discussion forums, but nutpicking is not a tactic easily discouraged through standard "terms of service" enforcement. The original material from which the quotes are nutpicked may be perfectly acceptable when viewed as a whole. A nutpicker strategically removes the most contentious or objectionable words from that post to suggest the original poster is irrational, dangerous or a member of the lunatic fringe.

An example of nutpicking might involve a liberal candidate posting his or thoughts on the economy on a public political discussion forum. He or she might say "I'm not a communist, I'm not a Marxist, but I do understand how some of those ideas might appeal to average workers who cannot seem to get a break under the current administration." A supporter of that candidate's conservative opponent might go nutpicking and post only a small part of the original post: "I do understand how some of those ideas (communism and Marxism) might appeal to average workers."

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This selected quote, taken completely out of context, might make the liberal candidate appear to be a communist sympathizer, even though the original quote makes no such claims. Nutpicking can be especially effective when the candidate's own words are presented out of context, but it can also be effective when quoting the most extreme views presented by equally extreme members of a political forum. Even if those views clearly do not reflect those expressed by the majority of participants, these carefully nutpicked quotes can weaken the credibility of all members of a particular political bent, liberal or conservative.

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