Occasionally I see people doing what I think of as the “Haters Gonna Hate Fallacy”.

The HGHF says something like: “People are going to misinterpret you no matter how carefully you word things. Therefore, there’s no point wasting time wording things carefully.”

An example:

“I think [term X] in your post is going to cause misunderstandings, I’d suggest phrasing it differently.”
“Oh, haters are gonna hate, there’s no amount of rephrasing that’s going to prevent this from being misinterpreted if people want to.”

Now there’s obviously a grain of truth in this. It is impossible to phrase something in a way that would always be interpreted correctly, and for pretty much any message there are people who are hostile to it and who will twist it in the most uncharitable possible way.

The fallacy is in assuming that if you cannot avoid all misunderstandings, there is no point in avoiding any misunderstandings. Maybe 5% of your audience will dismiss the message no matter what, but 30% will dismiss the old phrasing while being receptive to the new phrasing.

This is most obvious if you take it to an extreme:

“Hey maybe you shouldn’t start your essay by saying that all of your readers are idiots who deserve to be shot.”
“Eh, if that upsets them then they wouldn’t like me explaining the theory of general relativity anyway.”

Communication is hard and – importantly – contextual. Most of your readers will be reasonable people and assume you to use words to mean things they’re used to them meaning. If they’re used to word X being used differently than how you mean it, that doesn’t make them haters.

When I’ve fallen into something like the fallacy myself, it has often been motivated by an unwillingness to put in work. Other people should just understand me right away! “It’s beneath me to waste my time on doing other people’s interpretative work for them!” It’s dangerous to psychoanalyze others, but I have seen at least one person communicate unclearly, have that pointed out to them, then argue for why it was right for them to be unclear… only to later on admit that they were enjoying the frustration of being misunderstood.

Now avoiding misunderstandings is a lot of work, and it’s totally valid not to bother! It’s alright to just focus on a particular target audience who understands you. I’m not saying that you should always put in maximal effort into being understood – I certainly don’t.

But I do suggest owning up to it if you are choosing to write something in a way that is going to cause misunderstandings that could have been avoided.

Cross-posts: Twitter, Facebook.

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Communication is hard and – importantly – contextual. Most of your readers will be reasonable people

You think this partially because you are not famous or a popular writer.

By the 1% rule of Internet participation, you hear mostly from an extremely self-selected group of critics. You don't hear from the reasonable people, you hear from the unreasonable people. The more popular you get, the more this is true. And there is a lizardman constant going on: there is a fringe of crazy, stubborn readers who will fail to read the most plain and straightforward writing, misinterpret it in the wackiest way, hate you more the better you write, and amplify the craziest things they can find. (At my level of relative obscurity, it's petty stuff: sneers, doxing, death/swatting threats, ML researchers trying to get me fired, FBI visits, that sort of thing. Scott seems to have similar issues, just more so. But by the time you reach Tim Ferriss numbers of readers, this will have escalated to 'attempted kidnappings by organized crime' levels of risk, and he notes that it escalates still further to attempted murder of popular YouTubers etc.)

Combine this with the asymmetry of loss and reward, where criticism hurts a lot more than praise helps, and the more popular you get, the worse you will feel about everything you write or do, regardless of quality.

...Unless you constantly keep in mind: "haters gonna hate". If a criticism doesn't immediately make sense to you or you felt you dealt with it adequately, and it comes from someone you don't already know or trust, then oh well - haters gonna hate. If you're genuinely unsure, run a poll or A/B test or something to hear from a less self-selected sample - but do anything other than naively listening to and believing your critics! That's a luxury permitted only the most obscure or heavily filter-bubbled.

Oh, I definitely agree with "haters gonne hate" as an emotional strategy for dealing with uncharitable criticism after the fact: I might not be famous but I've certainly gotten a bunch of that. Yes, a lot of it is entirely unreasonable and one would do best to just ignore it.

The post was talking about whether to put in any effort into optimizing the presentation beforehand, or in response to feedback from someone you know to be reasonable; it didn't mean to say that you should accept every piece of criticism that your post gathers.

Really like this. Seems like an instance of the general case of ignoring marginal returns. "People will steal even with police, so why bother having police..." This also means that the flip side to your post is marginal returns diminish. It's a good investment to have a few cops around to prevent bad actors from walking off with your grand piano--but it's a very bad idea to keep hiring more police until crime is entirely eliminated. Similarly, it's good to write clearly. But if you find yourself obsessing over every word, your efforts are likely to be misplaced.

I think it would have helped this post to give a couple of examples of the HGHF that you've encountered in the wild.

Broadly agree, but:

“I think [term X] in your post is going to cause misunderstandings, I’d suggest phrasing it differently.”

“Oh, haters are gonna hate, there’s no amount of rephrasing that’s going to prevent this from being misinterpreted if people want to.”

I think I feel differently about this depending on whether the first person has a specific suggestion. Without it, I think that sometimes the second person isn't "not bothering to put in the effort" so much as "doesn't think the effort will pay off", or even "has already put in the effort and this was the result". It may be much easier to notice that something will be misunderstood than to phrase it differently such that it won't be.

I can understand the sentiment of being subtle, articulate, and precise as long as it remains within the bounds of "nitpickers gonna nitpick" or "dislikers gonna dislike" stage, but if you are treading in the realm where you have (or can possibly cultivate) haters, I don't think focusing on presentation works. Also, IMO, if the emotions have already gotten to the stage of being hateful, you might as well stand your ground and say what you have to say instead of selling nuance and subtlety as a point. The reason I say this is because it is a great heuristic to follow when you are already aware of the theme driving your writings; and more often than not the untrue cases(5%) that you mention are not going to change, while the ones who are already well accustomed to the topics and your style are probably only going to be more interested if you stand your ground. The classic example of this would be someone like NNTaleb, whose cult has only grown since he started being more unabashed about his ideas. Not to mention the number of death threats he gets on mainstream twitter alone and who knows how many via other sources. I think the best solution is to follow the heuristic(I mean haters gonna hate heuristic) and be courageous in your writing style, helps offset a lot of other issues such as stress, anxiety, and what not.