One time on Facebook, my friend Jane made a post about a news item in which she used the literary allusion, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” Our mutual friend Brent left a comment on the post asserting that the person in the news article had a right to protest, which was protected by the First Amendment. Jane replied, explaining, “It’s a line from Shakespeare. It’s something you say when someone is acting so defensive, it makes them seem more guilty. ‘Protest’ here just means ardently affirming or denying something.”
Brent responded, “Thanks, Jane. I am now blocking you. Take your condescending attitude somewhere else.”
This behavior sounds patently insane, but Jane and I were both used to it. It’s not uncommon if you’ve ever read a feminist article and decided to visit the hot, swirling tempest of methane gases known as the comment section. Those familiar with this phenomenon call it tone policing. The tone police pop up when even alternative facts are hard to come by that the only way a commenter can act on their own primitive aggression is to angrily insist they cannot, will not thoughtfully consider anything in the article because they don’t like the tone it’s written in. It’s too aggressive! It’s so condescending! They feel too insulted by the article’s timbre to engage with it, even though they’re clearly engaged enough to leave a whiny comment instead of just closing the tab.