Web Culture

5 Ways You’re (Accidentally!) Being a Condescending Jerk Online

Joel Lee 29-01-2015

Internet arguments are a fact of life, and no matter how much is written about proper online etiquette 7 Netiquette Guidelines For Writing Emails & Forum Posts Netiquette is short for network or internet etiquette. It encompasses the special set of social conventions found in online interactions. While netiquette is very similar to good behavior or etiquette in offline encounters, there are... Read More  we always come back to one unshakable truth: it’s normal to be a jerk 6 Things The Internet Has Taught Me About Etiquette [Opinion] Over the years, I've learned that the Internet has its own sets of rules and etiquette much like any other culture. Granted, I have also learned something else about the Internet – it's very cynical... Read More on the web.


But here’s the thing: you might be a jerk and not even realize it. If that’s the case, it may be high time for you to recognize the signs that you need to finally grow up.

While it’s one thing to be mean and contemptible, it’s a far more subtle sin to be a jerk through condescension. There are certain attitudes and phrases that we all exhibit on a day-to-day basis that can unknowingly derail an otherwise productive conversation 4 Unexpected Ways To Make The Best Of Powerful Online Discussions There are places online where you can find serious discussions that are well-moderated and more meaningful than the usual drivel. When you encounter such threads, how can you make the most of them? Read More .

So stop being a jerk. (I’m just as much at fault as everyone else.) The Internet would be a nicer place if we all took a step back and changed the way we conversed 5 Methods to Transform Your Online Arguments & Make Them Stronger There is a smart way to argue constructively online. Take the help of these five concepts and bring your best words and best behavior to the table. Increase the value of your online arguments. Read More , wouldn’t it?

Posturing With Intelligence

Nobody likes to feel stupid. It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest guy in the world or just an average Joe who admits that you aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer: it sucks when we feel inadequate. On the Internet, it’s easy — maybe even too easy — to overcompensate for that insecurity.

That’s why so many arguments devolve into a measurement match between intelligence. IQ is often brought up as a way to dismiss an opponent even though it never, ever works. It only ever backfires.


For example, take a look at this Reddit user’s response to the question, “For $5 million, would you swallow a pill that permanently lowers your IQ by 10 points?” It’s a silly but innocent question that can be answered without much drama, but this user makes a critical mistake.


First, the user boasts of his own intelligence in a way that devalues everyone else. Second, he makes a mockery of average folk by bringing up the “perils of intelligence”: he’s so smart that he can’t enjoy the kind of entertainment that mere plebes enjoy.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if you have to bring up your intelligence at any point, you’ve already lost. It’s a juvenile tactic that only serves to insult everyone else, without actually proving that you’re as intelligent as you claim.


Posturing With Authority

The thing with authority is that it only has power when people recognize said authority. Trying to defend your point by proving that you have credibility on the matter is futile because your opponent(s) likely won’t care. You’ll just come off as trying too hard.


Anyone can claim anything on the Internet. Statements like “I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental disorder” and “I have a PhD in physics” carry no weight because they can’t be proven over the web.

But more importantly, it doesn’t matter if the claims you make are true or not. The only thing that matters when arguing online is that you argue the point. Anything less than that will be seen as an attempt to bolster a weak argument with unrelated details.



And when taken to the extreme, self-proclaimed authority can actually weaken the point you want to make.

Posturing With Language

Language is a funny thing on the Internet. Since it’s the medium that we all use to communicate our thoughts, some people think that manipulating the medium can make our thoughts seem smarter than they really are.



While language sticklers (also known as “grammar nazis”) are little more than annoyances, people who speak as if they’ve been chewing on a thesaurus all day are cringe-inducing – to the max. It reeks of trying too hard 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls The Internet is without doubt a great invention. Unfortunately, no one so far has been able to develop and anti-troll device that will help to make it a more civilized place. You might have come... Read More , and you will be mocked if you do this.

Strip away the snobbery and it’s glaringly obvious how mundane the thought actually is: “People are too superficial nowadays.


You also have folks who inject way too much formality into their words in contexts that don’t call for it. YouTube is one of the most informal websites on the planet, yet this guy types like he’s wearing a monocle and top hat.

Is it a joke? Maybe. Is it jarring? Yes. Does it stink of insecurity? You bet.

When you have to manipulate the delivery of your thoughts in order to make your thoughts carry more weight, it should be a red flag that the thought is weak to begin with. Don’t mask it with pretentious language.

Posturing With Maturity

In the list of “things most cherished by Internet trolls”, maturity ranks right below intelligence. But just as the “intelligence” cherished by these people isn’t real intelligence, the “maturity” isn’t real maturity. To them, immaturity is defined as liking anything they don’t personally like.


The underlying arrogance is easy to sniff out: “I’m more mature than you, so the things I like are better than the things you like. Let me show you the light.” The real tragedy is how anyone could possibly think that this tactic could ever be successful. It never is.

It’s a twist on Cohen’s Law of the Internet 5 Internet Commandments To Live By Or Incur The Wrath Of The Web (And A Note On Porn) The Internet is a somewhat lawless place. Sure, there are various legalities concerning the posting and viewing of certain content -- including pornography and copyrighted material -- but generally speaking the rules that govern the... Read More , which can be summarized as “anyone who tries to dismiss someone else’s point of view has automatically lost the argument”. The core issue here is the dismissive attitude, which has no place in any genuine discussion.

Posturing With Logic

This point may seem a bit paradoxical. After all, logic is the heart of argumentation, isn’t it? It makes sense to point out logical inconsistencies when debating online. The problem, as always, is that this can be taken too far or twisted.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for people to dismantle arguments by poking for fallacies, rather than actually presenting counterarguments. The irony here is that pointing out a logical fallacy is itself a logical fallacy The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 3] Read More .


But the real misstep happens when you fall back on logic as a way to defend yourself when the context doesn’t call for logical discourse. Humans are rational creatures, but we’re also so much more than that. Reducing everything to logic and dismissing everything else is not the way to go.

That being said, fallacies are real and worth avoiding. Check out our guide to Internet fallacies The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 1] How many Internet arguments have you witnessed? Or better yet, how many Internet arguments have you participated in? I visit a number of forums and communities on a daily basis, and I see arguments all... Read More to make sure you don’t make those mistakes.

Final Thoughts

Condescension stems from a need to prove one’s superiority. How can superiority be proven? By posturing. If you ever find yourself posturing for position in an argument, that should be a red flag that you may be coming off as pretentious.

It all comes down to treating people with respect — especially the ones who disagree with you! When you stop thinking of others as below yourself, you’ll find that conversations end up being more fruitful and productive.

What are the most pretentious Internet arguments you’ve seen? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Image Credits: young businessman Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Facebook, Online Commenting, Reddit.

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  1. Michele Hollis
    April 18, 2019 at 6:05 am

    I asked a climate question on a popular, ecological site, and was called vicious names--immediadetly! Stunned, I asked for the reason for the hostility. The conversation segued into a "I'm-not-hostile-you're-the-one-who's-hostile!" My climate question evaporated. Sadly, this was a normal occurrence on the site, reasoning behind the behavior constantly clarified as "passion for the environment."
    I unsubscribed about 2-months later.

  2. Brett
    July 7, 2016 at 4:01 am

    its a logical fallacy to present a logical fallacy as a logical fallacy. a thing cannot not make sense because it does not not make sense.

  3. Dann Albright
    February 22, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    These are all really great examples of being a jerk—though, as you say, I'm sure many times it's unintentional. Another one I'd add to the list is pretending to not understand what someone has said because of a grammatical error, spelling error, or other mistake (guilty of that one myself on occasion). Thanks for putting this list together, Joel!

    • Joel
      February 25, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      Thanks Dann! And that's a great addition. As embarrassing as it is to admit, when I was younger and immature I used to be a huge language stickler in arguments. Whenever I see it happening now, I just roll my eyes. What a silly way to derail a conversation.

  4. Jerome Gelb
    February 4, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    You're right Joel! A useful tip re online conversations is to keep in mind that you have no quick or easy way of verifying who you are communicating with or anything about them. Not all cybercrime is conducted by automated phishing scams. Billions of dollars are scammed from individuals via personal contact online, using false identities and establishing "personal" connections with those who respond. Especially vulnerable are the young, the elderly and the lonely. If any information that could be verified is spilled, don't feel guilty or disloyal, check it out and verify!! Many scammers have been undone via their slip-ups.

    • Joel
      February 25, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      Excellent point, Jerome. Verification is so important. If anything ever feels even the slightest bit fishy, err on the side of caution and don't be afraid to ask for proof of identity. Is that paranoia? Maybe, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

  5. Jerome Gelb
    February 3, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    The benefit of anonymity is the freedom to be yourself or anyone but yourself! Anonymity is like a giant concrete wall with a crowd of people hiding behind it. You can't see them face to face and it is very foolish and even dangerous to assume anything just from the language used by this horde of unknown humans. Joel, regardless of whether or not any of these characteristics or none of them are present in an Internet post or comment, the authors true intentions are completely unknown and speculation can lead people to place their trust in those who have done nothing tangible to earn it. Everything from the gender of the author to the veracity of the position they're expressing can be part of a deception designed to gain some sort of benefit.........be it attention (positive or negative), fear, donation, investment, pity, private information, a new identity, relationship, hook-up or target. Law enforcement the world over have collected thousands of horror stories of people duped in every way imaginable.....often by the "nicest" and most "polite" and "charming" people. Joel, please remind your readers that one of the most effective skills of the psychopath is the mimicry of any attribute, emotion or persona that they wish or deem necessary to require. A famous serial killer was described by the sole survivor of his killing spree as being able to change from a calm, charming, respectful gentleman, into a fury filled viper without a bone of compassion in his body, in a matter of a few seconds. Essentially, no one but this sole survivor ever saw their murderer until the moment he struck, despite spending the entire evening with him!

    • Joel
      February 4, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Man, that's terrifying. The fact that there are some people out there who are THAT skilled at masking their emotions and taking on any kind of persona that they wish? That level of manipulation is just nightmare fuel.

  6. Maryon Jeane
    January 30, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    Wonderful article! I've been around the Internet for quite a while and I've met all the above, again and again - and often also thought: "The Internet would be a nicer place if we all took a step back and changed the way we conversed".

    May I also add: stop assuming that the person with whom you're conversing is male. A negative attitude to the female voice is sadly rife on the Internet, both actively (women's opinions are treated far more dismissively than men's - try joining different forums etc. with a male or a female name at different times...) and passively by just assuming you're talking to a male unless otherwise alerted.

    My favourite insult directed to me personally happened recently: people were talking about the use or otherwise of Amazon's melding of audiobook and ebook and a couple of the guys (as in males) started to heckle me and become hostile for no apparent reason, unfortunately disaffecting all the reasonable people in the debate and causing them to sign off one by one and rapidly. Suddenly, out of the blue, one of the hostile guys said something along the lines of: "I've just realised I'm talking to someone whose parents couldn't even spell Marion. Class." I didn't respond to this (well, I typed a reply and then deleted it and signed off, which I think was pretty restrained), but the thing is that the argument was about the benefits of reading 'good' literature as opposed to throwaway stuff (Mills & Boon, sex-and-shopping, etc,) and I was arguing that you can learn more from decent literature. Would the guy (my interlocutor?...) have realised, had he been more widely and 'better' read, that the name is a combination of Mary and Anne and has a multivariety of forms (Maryanne, Maryan, Maryon, Marian, Marion etc.), the ones nearer the original combination (in Western countries at least) being likely to be the older? He was making a classist assumption as well (after having derided my apparent snobbishness in preferring well-written books to the dashed-off type), which I could have pointed out, thereby turning the tables slightly. (As for my parents, they are blameless because the name is a family one so they didn't choose it...)

    I *think* I was right not to react along the lines above, but rather simply to say "How rude!" and leave the forum - but the guy concerned hasn't learnt anything and presumably will continue to hassle people and be gratuitously rude, so I'm still not sure.

    • Joel
      February 4, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Great points, Maryon. If I were in your shoes, I'd be pretty mad! When someone stoops so low as to make a shotgun personal attack (like the one about misspelling Marion), it boils my blood. I think you did right to walk away and ignore them.

      Also, good point about not assuming someone's gender. In fact, it's probably best not to assume anything at all! Though that is admittedly very difficult. :)

  7. Philip Bates
    January 30, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Okay, so on sites other than My Select Circle (MUO, Kasterborous, sometimes Digital Spy, but I don't know why), I generally remember the advice from this sadly-defunct Twitter account - https://twitter.com/avoidcomments: Don't Read The Comments. They can be a minefield.

    However, as you've pointed out, Joel, viewed from a more positive perspective, they can be very, very funny. The one that really annoys me though is anything along the lines of "I'm genuinely interested in why you think I'm wrong." Because it's a filthy rotten lie.

    • Joel
      February 2, 2015 at 4:00 am

      Oh man, you hit on an eighth point that I missed: posturing with courtesy. Maybe it's a subset of the maturity angle, but either way, I find it incredibly grating. Few things grind my gears faster than feigned politeness.

  8. Craig
    January 30, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Some excellent examples in this article. Who would have thought you can find condescending jerks on Reddit and Facebook?!

    • Joel
      February 2, 2015 at 4:03 am

      It's amazing how many folks think they can get away with it. Then again, I guess it's to be expected when you visit two of the largest websites in the world.

  9. suzybel58
    January 30, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    You said it all in the "Final Thoughts".

    • Joel
      February 2, 2015 at 4:13 am

      Thank you. :)

  10. Rob
    January 30, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    I graduated with honours in Philosophy, so please take this as an argument from utmost authority. I have authored in excess of 3,000,000 words. I apprehend and sympathise fully with the efficacy of the utilitarian argument set forth within the screenshot accompanying your third point "Posturing With Language", though I fear this article may fall under the grasp of Ad Populum argumentation.

    Sorry Joel. Couldn't resist, mate ;)

    • Joel
      February 2, 2015 at 3:56 am

      I'm impressed you fit them all into one paragraph. You've earned that arrogance. ;)

  11. Swaminathan Venkatesh
    January 29, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    And to answer the most pretentious arguments, a year or so back there was an article on effects of war. I made the mistake of commenting. I said it'd be great if all the world leaders read the article and stop invading countries for wealth, resources & power.

    Out came a response, "it is funny you bring in the oil reference but you & your terrorist friends don't realize US is self-dependant on oil production. BTW, without US entering countries, you cow-worshipping losers would still have not tasted freedoms . Now go and kill your god. I want a beef burger.. Make it a red dot special."

    And then I realised why the wars would never end.. Lesson learnt.. :)

    • Joel
      February 2, 2015 at 3:58 am

      Yeesh, that's terrible on two levels: one, that someone would actually say something like that, and two, that that kind of behavior is commonplace on the Internet. Sometimes it's incredibly obvious why the world can't ever be a utopia. I'm sorry you had to face someone like that, Swaminathan.

  12. A wise man said
    January 29, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Grow up, stop meing offended, move along.

    • Joel
      February 2, 2015 at 3:54 am

      While it's true that people (myself included) should learn to develop thicker skin, I also think it's good to avoid social friction whenever possible, especially if it's unintended.

  13. Swaminathan Venkatesh
    January 29, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    So which type of Posturing are you using in this article Joel? :P

    Nice piece. Had a few chuckles realising I too do some of these without ever thinking about it.

    • Joel
      February 2, 2015 at 3:52 am

      Good question! I want to say "None of the above" but that's the tricky part about condescension: you don't always realize that you're being condescending. (I know you were joking, but it highlights an important point.)

      I guess I have one question for you: if someone were posturing in these ways towards you, would you tell them? Or would you keep it to yourself?