Straw man argument: an argument made against a prescribed and fallacious opinion rather than an actual opinion in an attempt to make one’s own argument seem more sensible.
This may be intentional or caused by a genuine lack of knowledge and understanding regarding another’s opinion.
Before reading anything else on this page (read: anything anywhere) it’s crucial to understand the importance of engaging with opinions that you disagree with. So often do I find that the masses would much rather condense your argument to a social-media-friendly mis-quote than actually analyze the content of it. This isn’t just a tendency for one demographic, but rather a product of human nature. It’s difficult to empathize and understand every position. I would even argue that we shouldn’t try to understand every argument. Plenty of beliefs are toxic enough that validating them with a response would only serve to anger you. Anger typically doesn’t produce meaningful and critical discussions. There is, of course, a difference between sifting through bigotry and sifting through an opinion that you may believe to be bias.
With that said, I still implore you to seek out those opinions that go against your own. It’s important to listen to sensible opposition to our core beliefs. Doing so may do one of two things: it may allow skepticism even within your own ideologies or it may help to strengthen your currently held positions. When you find yourself unable to even moderately illustrate the opinions and beliefs of your opponents, you have a problem. This is how straw man arguments arise.
When you read or hear other perspectives, and other points-of-view you may gain an insight on particular issues that you may not have had access to before. You may also find yourself countering their arguments, which proves especially handy around the holidays when you’re “debating” with stubborn family members.
In her Ted Talk presentation, The Danger of a Single Story , Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks on the issue of allowing yourself to see only one perspective (Video Link). Now, Adichie is speaking in a cultural and global sense, but her point still holds true in socio-political debates. It is a danger to both yourself and others when you fail to challenge your beliefs, and are unable to think critically about what others tell you.
It is equally dangerous to try and speak on an opinion (especially an opposing one) with little understanding of the opinion, its context, and the research behind it.
Tl;dr : Beware the abominable straw man, and remember that when it comes to legitimate intellectual opinions, always go for the longer version.