This is a set of questions about people I have come to stick to when I am on social media. Answering these have served me very well getting myself out of unnecessary trouble. It is in no way a complete guide on general discourse, but can help you decide whether it is worth to talk to a stranger online or not.
1) Does the stranger make assumptions of your intention?
If stranger already assumes something about you, he is already biased. Stranger will then not necessarily seek to discuss with you, but confirm those biases they have with your or your intentions. Sometimes, being clear about your intention helps resolving a conflict and I recommend doing this if you think stranger is not aware of your true intention.
2) Does the stranger make assumptions about you that you know does not apply to you?
This is similar to the first point. However here, stranger has already made an assumption about your character as a whole, making them likely to use ad hominems or similar strategies against you. Realize that you do not have to defend yourself from these kind of people and it's usually a waste of time. Think of it like being a rock at the beach while internet strangers are tiny grains of sand trying to grab your attention.
3) Seek more information about that stranger's online behavior (i.e. their profile). Does the stranger seem to judge quickly/engage in pointless fights/has a tendency to argue/display other „abnormal“ behaviors?
This sometimes implies stranger is a troublemaker, which is another sign for you that they should not be engaged with. In some cases, strangers do have a record of discussing a lot, with their intention being to actually reach out and learn, rather than be right all the time. Trying to figure out intention is important, just as much clarifying your intention in the right situation is.
4) Is the stranger's account new (i.e. less than a month old)?
New accounts sometimes happen to be troll accounts. This is mostly because the stranger or troll either 1) got banned, muted or blocked on his main account, 2) does not dare getting their main account in trouble or 3) recently created the account because they got banned from other sites.
5) Would engaging with that stranger only end up in defending yourself, rather than mutual discourse/exchange of ideas?
Connected to point 1) and 2). Often people only engage in discussion to prove they're right, rather than to enhance their perspective or world view. Often people just talk at each other instead of talking to each other. True exchange of ideas or experiences happens very rarely. If you want to enhance your online experience, this is a very important point to consider.
If you answered at least two of these questions with yes, then engaging a discussion here may not be worth it. Further steps may include muting or blocking that person if unpleasant replies persist, but I'll save this for another article.
You are of course always free to violate these as you like, as different situations often require different treatment. If you find anything to add, please let me know.