An Open Letter to The Tone Troll

Posted on June 22, 2012. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Religion, Social Justice, Trolls, You're Not Helping |

Hi there!

     I bet you’re wondering why I’m writing you this letter.  You might even be wondering why people are all so mad at you right now- and why they are calling you mean names.  I know, I know- you were only trying to help, right?  You just wanted to see a little decorum, a little civility- and everyone is just amplifying the very thing you are trying to help them discard.  It must be frustrating.  It must feel as though you are experiencing the cruel effects of tribalism- a sort of “internet xenophobia”, if you will.  You are a mere missionary preaching the gospel of civil discourse and the lynch mob stands with torches and pitchforks waiting for you at the county line.


Here is the thing.  Those people you were trying to help?  They are having a conversation.  That conversation has a topic.  That topic is important to them.  It is important enough that they are wearing their gut reactions on their sleeves.  So when you come waltzing in, and you say “Guys- hey, guys- Y U mad, bro?” they are more than likely going to turn on you.

Why, you ask?  You’re only trying to let cooler heads prevail, right? I totally get what you’re feeling right now.  I understand.

What you need to understand is that the reason they are mad is right in front of you.  It’s right there- in the post you are reading.  Heck, it may even be summed up pretty succinctly in the title of the post.  Yet here you are, telling these people that you don’t understand what could possibly have them up in arms.  This, to them, is the problem.

Imagine you find yourself in a hotel burning to the ground.  You see a number of people frantically yelling to wake the guests up- pounding on doors and shouting.  You have that mental image yet? Don’t worry, I’ll wait…..

We good now?  Alright, so now imagine- for the sake of argument- you see this one man who seems perfectly calm.  He is standing at the Continental breakfast table pouring himself a coffee and unwrapping a stale shrink-wrapped danish.  Instead of showing any concern at all for the crisis going on around him, he grabs the occasional screaming patron and notes to them how the curtains don’t match the sofa in the lobby.  WTF, right?

You are being that guy.  You are walking into a that burning hotel to talk about interior decorating. 

What’s that you say?  I’m not being fair? The building wasn’t really on fire? Alright then, so tell me why you weren’t explaining that to the patrons.  What I mean by that is why aren’t you commenting on the topic that has them all frantic?  What they hear you saying is “I’m not convinced that the building is on fire, so let’s talk about how we might freshen up this place, shall we?”

You are talking about tone- about how to be an effective communicator- yet you are breaking the cardinal rule of effective communication: Meeting people where they are.

This next point is very important, so listen carefully.  I know- for a fact- that you understand sub-context.  I know you do, because you are pointing it out to everyone with your comments.  You are slapping their wrists about how their tone conveys an unhelpful message that they are closed to reasonable discourse.  We’ll get back to that last sentence in a minute- but right now- I want you to focus.  Whether you are saying it or not- and if someone called you a “tone troll I am willing to bet the farm that you didn’t say it- telling people that they have no right to be vocally angry has the unfortunate sub-context of appearing to agree with the instigating position.  It may not be true.  It may not reflect your feelings on the subject at hand.  Yet if you don’t take the time to acknowledge the reasons why they are angry you are sort of telling them that you think the thing that makes them furious is No Big Deal.  It won’t help for you to start out your comment with “I don’t agree with the opposite position, but….” either.  It’s flippant.  It’s dismissive.

The subject of every post is not a segue for you to talk about how “above all this” you are.

  • I don’t agree with overt racism, but gee, can’t we just try to avoid calling people bigots?”
  • I agree that women should be included, but can we stop attacking people who want to blame women for their own problems?”
  • I hate tone trolling as well, but I’m aiming for irony here…..
  • I love kittens as much as the next guy, but isn’t there some way to be rational with the “lolcats” haters?”  (The answer to that question is: “WTF, srsly? Y yu no luvs teh lolkittehz?  Y U maik Ceiling Cat angreez?”)

So maybe you are getting it now?  Perhaps I’ve helped to clarify what the perception of your comments mean to everybody else in the thread.

We are not done yet though.  Remember when I said I was going to come back to that sentence about being “closed to reasonable discourse”? No?  Y U no read 4 comprehension? 

Sorry, that was uncalled for…..

Anyway, what I said was this:

You are slapping their wrists about how their tone conveys an unhelpful message that they are closed to reasonable discourse.

I assume that is the thrust of your argument.  It is the thrust of the argument for just about every single person who gets called a “Tone Troll”.  It is why people start using metaphors about you coming out from under your bridge.  Why they tell you to give their regards to the three Billy Goats Gruff.  Not fair, right? Wait, though…let me explain.

I bet that people don’t usually tell you this.  I bet that by this point they have lost any semblance of patience and are hurling epithets and unpleasantries.  I can’t blame them, really(though I’m pretty sure you can!), and I’ll explain to you why.  See, the problem here is a misunderstanding.  You think that being closed to reasonable discourse is always a bad thing.  You think that the sub-context of their message-that they are closed to reasonable discourse on the matter- is unintentional.  Herein lies the problem. Both of your assumptions are incorrect.

You see, it isn’t always a bad thing to inform people that their ideas are unworthy of common respect.  It isn’t always a bad thing to say “We are not going to have a conversation about the finer points of calling that woman a cunt.” or “We don’t particularly care to discuss the proper circumstances under which we can blame women for being assaulted.”

It’s pretty simple, really.  Those ideas are so beyond the scope of reasonable thought and discourse, are so steeped and informed by glorious unadulterated ignorance, that to give them proper airing is to do a vicious disservice to the cause of reasonable discourse you so desperately seem to care about.  No favors are done when any and every idea is treated as worthy of debate.

Did you catch that?  I’ll boil it down for you:

The sub-context of harsh tone is almost always intentional.  It is designed specifically to convey the message that those ideas are not worthy of respect and civil discourse.

You think that the tone is unhelpful, they think that the ideas are worthy of nothing less than derision and mockery.

I hope that this little note to you has been useful.  I hope that next time you feel as though everyone is just being so darn mean you will take the time to ask why they might feel this way.  You may wish to ask yourself, “Self, even if the tone seems to be out of hand- is there a reason why these people have a right to be angry?”   You could start by coming out strongly and firmly in support of their position- rise above the fray- and just avoid the tone that you hate so desperately.  You could just find a blog that worships at the alter of tone as much as you do. or or something like that.

Or maybe you could start your own blog- heck- I’ll even let you steal my totally awesome domain suggestions without attribution (Please!  WITHOUT ATTRIBUTION!).  Go out there and get yourself that huge following of people who think the most horrible-est thing on the internet is how not-nice everyone is becoming.  By all means, come to my blog and invite fellow concerned commenters to come over to your wonderful forum that is free of all the divisiveness and emotion.  Where we can all talk politely about whether women actually did bring abuse upon themselves, whether trying to stop harassment is a veiled form of misandry, and whether men are the real victim of all this feminist brouhaha.  We can talk about how black men are squandering the obviously equal opportunities afforded to them by our culture.  We can talk about how atheists are incapable of love under a material worldview.  It will be great fun!

Someday, because of your fantastic contribution to public discourse, I can go to the Men’s Rights subreddit and listen to everyone clucking away in harmony about how gosh darn hard it is to be a man in the world today- how women are the politest possible euphemism for a vagina.  It’ll be swell.

In the meantime, I hope you and I have gotten somewhere today.  I hope you can use some of the strategies I have given here today to help you in your quest for Real Communication™.  If you are ready, let’s get back out there and make a difference!

Go get ’em Tiger!

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9 Responses to “An Open Letter to The Tone Troll”

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U mad?

Well, Jason, as you may have been recently made aware- naming names is being a bully.


I wanted this post to be general enough to link to when I have tone trolls- like a helpful how-to…..

[…] Waye lays it all out for you. Hi […]

Excellent post. Thanks for this and thanks to Jason for giving the link.

[…] An Open Letter to The Tone Troll( […]

These are good points. I hope I didn’t come off as a tone troll in our brief interaction.

Though I cannot say that I agree with much of anything you said, I would not classify you as a tone troll. I enjoy different opinions on this blog, and you at least came armed with one that didn’t boil down to “hey, you should be nice.”

I never thought about it that way. Very nice post, George W.

[…] I wrote a popular post about Tone Trolling […]

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