Don't be framed

Avoid getting dragged into discussion anti-patterns

Here’s a mistake I keep making and, hopefully, by documenting it I can avoid repeating it.

Maybe you’re familiar with this sequence of events:

  1. A pundit or blogger writes something outrageously wrong or something that completely misrepresents something important to your profession or field of study.

  2. You write a response.

  3. The pundit’s reply ignores what you said: they use it a springboard to make a completely different point; your words become an excuse to criticise you personally; or they misrepresent everything you said in a manner that supports their agenda.

  4. Repeat steps 2. and 3. until you are furious.

  5. You then get dismissed and branded as the irrational and angry crank who is always on the attack and responds to reasonable discussions with fury. It doesn’t matter if their initial question was a defence of the indefensible, you’re cast as the irrational one. “Hitting children with planks. Some people say it’s immoral. Others say that it is a necessary part of how the publishing industry works.”

Note: the provocateur pundit always always maintains a level of civility, tone, and politeness that’s higher than the baseline of the community they are participating in. That’s how they get away with writing outrageous and offensive nonsense.

This is a no win situation because the pundit controls the frame of the discussion. The point of the instigating post is to strengthen the pundit’s ideological base—cement their position within the community that holds their worldview. It is very much an intentional trap and the only solution is to not fall for it.

Occasionally, especially on Twitter, you will find the pundit using a slightly different setup to this routine. The cycle isn’t triggered by a post but by the pundit coming in with an innocent question—often one that’s either a bit strange or out of the left-field. You answer, and before you know it, you’ve been pulled into a cycle of nonsense where the pundit is trying to brand you as a troll, crank, or madman in front of their chosen community, which then gets pulled in to join the attack.

No good comes from engaging with these people.

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