Why you shouldn’t complain about being patronised online

May 14, 2017

Tone Policing. The only motive is to end debate.

I’ve written before about tone policing – when people get annoyed at the way people speak on social media. The problem with tone policing is:

a) Often, particularly on Twitter, the tone exists only in the head of the person taking offence at it.

b) It distracts from the content of arguments.

One particularly common complaint is being patronised. Roughly speaking, you think you are being patronised when you deduce that somebody you are speaking to thinks you are an idiot.  Now, this may be a problem if it is real life and if it’s somebody you will have ongoing interactions with. But if you are arguing with a stranger on social media it’s really not worth complaining if you suspect they think you are an idiot, because nothing good can come from drawing attention to that.

This is because there are only 4 possibilities:

  1. You are not an idiot and they don’t think you are an idiot. In this case, you have nothing to complain about.
  2. You are not an idiot and they think you are an idiot. This may be annoying, but it means they are under-estimating you. This means that if, instead of taking offence, you continue the debate, you are likely to get the better of them. You will look good, they will look bad. Why stop that happening?
  3. You are an idiot and they don’t think you are an idiot. By complaining you have now drawn their attention to your idiocy. They are now more likely to think you are an idiot. You have made the problem worse.
  4. You are an idiot and they think you are an idiot. Now you’ve drawn everyone else’s attention to the fact.

Now it is an entirely different matter if they have said you are an idiot, or they have made an untrue claim that implies you are an idiot. You should object to being insulted or misrepresented. But if you try to convict them for the thought-crime of having a low opinion of you, then the best you can hope for is that you don’t prove them right.



  1. I tried my first day of Twitter today. It will be my last. I really thought you were exaggerating but it is like the twilight zone.

    • You did manage to get involved in one of the dumbest arguments I have ever seen.

      Not that it was your fault.

  2. Was that representative? Nobody seemed to read anything. Every comment had a free school-yard slap at the end and no one seemed to be thinking. I pulled out when I reallied it was getting to me and I was beginning to ignore the advice in this post.

    What struck me was the social norms which seem so different to normal conversations. Would love to compare differences in peoples styles on different media to see if they vary considerably.

  3. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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