Tone policing (also tone trolling, tone argument and tone fallacy) is an ad hominem and antidebate appeal based on genetic fallacy. It attempts to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the tone in which it was presented rather than the message itself.
In Bailey Poland's book, Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, she suggests that tone policing is frequently aimed at women and attempts to derail or silence opponents who may be lower on the "privilege ladder". She writes that "In changing their tactics to criticizing how the women spoke instead of what the women said, the men created an environment in which the outcome of a dispute was not decided on the merits of an argument but on whether the men chose to engage with the arguments in good faith." and adds that tone policing is frequently aimed at women as a way to prevent them from making points in discussions.
In Keith Bybee's How Civility Works, he notes that feminists, Black Lives Matter protesters, and anti-war protesters have been told to "calm down and try to be more polite". He argues that tone policing is a means to deflect attention from injustice and relocate the problem in the style of the complaint, rather than address the complaint itself. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. condemned this type of silencing, writing that he was "gravely disappointed" with the "white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice."
While ad hominem fallacies of relevance are often autologies, critics have argued that tone policing is a flawed concept simply because it is autological. As discussed by The Frisky's Rebecca Vipond Brink, the act of labeling tone policing may itself be considered tone policing, as "The problem with telling someone that you have a right to express yourself as angrily as you want to without them raising an objection is that you’re also inherently telling them that they don’t have a right to be angry about the way you’re addressing them."
Bruce Byfield has written that steering observers away from the validity of an argument is only one of many possible motivations for raising concerns about tone during a heated debate. An article on The Good Men Project has argued that moderating tone, whether or not one cares about civility, is useful for increasing persuasive impact on the listener.
- Bailey Poland (2016) Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, p. 46. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9781612348728.
- Keith Bybee (2016) How Civility Works, p. 30. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9781503601543.
- Chhokra, Shubhankar (2016-04-08). "The Myth of Tone Policing". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- Rebecca Vipond Brink (2014-09-07). "Calling Out Tone-Policing Has Become Tone-Policing". Retrieved 2016-11-18.
- Byfield, Bruce (2014-03-20). "Separating discussions of tone from tone arguments". Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- Frantz, Ozy (2012-06-27). "In Defense of the Tone Argument". The Good Men Project. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- Jesse Benn The White Anti-Racism Tone Police: White Supremacy vs. White Privilege The Huffington Post 24 Jul 2015
- Amanda Marcotte Tone Policing Only Goes One Way Raw Story 22 May 2013