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The reason I'm asking is this: I have a relative (real 60s hippie) who does this all the time on Facebook (note audience: Friends only), and FB doesn't understand that it's not his own opinion that he's expressing (albeit in an inflammatory way, subjectively) because FB is not a person...who either knows him well or has humanlike perception capabilities.

I'm going to just make up an example (because actual quotes are not FB Public or SE-ready). Based on a recent topic in "the news" (women serving in the military, esp. combat arms), here is a faux quote (i.e., a false quote, usually attributed to a famous person, or a personified viewpoint):

'Pack up your eggs and go home, ladies. We're busy shelling over here!'

On the surface of it, that's not good (for so many reasons), but I think the intent is obvious--to hold that view up to criticism (and perhaps, to provoke introspection or open debate), not to disparage any group in any way (except, quite possibly, the ones actually having that point of view).

But some people don't get it, and FB is not the appropriate forum for reading comprehension intervention (IME). With that being said, the question is this:

What would you call that technique, if you will, specifically?

I don't think it qualifes as playing devil's advocate (Wikipedia). I'm not sure, but I'm hoping for a more definitive term for that, even if it's informal.


Update (21MAR21)

I found pasquinade (Wikipedia) by way of satire, lampoon, and caricature (literary). I'm not sure how closely it would actually be associated with the latter, specifically, versus the first two synonyms, generally. And it's a little fancy; we just call it "mocking" here, but I didn't want to lead with that, or end with only that.


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    I must be dumb. I haven't got a clue what Pack up your eggs and go home, ladies. We're shelling here! might mean. Mar 15, 2021 at 18:18
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Mar 17, 2021 at 12:23
  • There's a difference if the overstatement is intended to fool people, vs. if it is clearly farcical. Mar 20, 2021 at 15:34
  • If your uncle doesn't surround his comments with "scare quotes", there are no clues that he is using any sort of rhetorical device. I bet he gets a lot of "unfriends" with "un-scared" comments such as in your example. Mar 21, 2021 at 1:38
  • This sounds like what Antony did in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in Act Three, where he agreed with Brutus on Caesar's death, yet was still mocking his position.
    – BigRigz
    Mar 22, 2021 at 13:46

9 Answers 9

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+200

I don't know if this is really what you're referring to, but there is a part of the Socratic method often referred to as "Socratic irony" where you attempt to expose the flaws of someone else's argument by initially agreeing with them with the express purpose of exaggerating them to underline their absurdity.

According to the article "Socratic irony" in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Simon Blackburn. Oxford University Press, 2008), a Socratic irony is "Socrates's irritating tendency to praise his hearers while undermining them, or to disparage his own superior abilities while manifesting them."

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    Hence, Socratic sarcasm, maybe?
    – Ideogram
    Mar 16, 2021 at 15:53
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A few of the other answers have mentioned irony but I'd like to add sarcasm more specifically.

Sarcasm is the use of words usually used to either mock or annoy someone, or for humorous purposes. Sarcasm may employ ambivalence, although it is not necessarily ironic. Most noticeable in spoken word, sarcasm is mainly distinguished by the inflection with which it is spoken and is largely context-dependent.

[Wikipedia]

I think the key is that the words are used to mock or annoy someone who 'is on the side of' the point of view which is ironically (and sarcastically) stated. If the words were spoken you might hear the sarcasm (tone of mockery) in the inflection, but that tone is lost in the written communication which, in some contexts, might make it difficult to discern if the speaker holds or opposes the point of view which is represented. This could lead to annoying people who are 'against' the point of view which is stated also. Annoying all parties might be a bonus for an especially sarcastic person!

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    I get the impression that the OP's relative is attempting to be sarcastic, but not being particularly successful at it. Maybe it works for him IRL, but his techniques don't translate well to social media.
    – PM 2Ring
    Mar 17, 2021 at 6:36
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    @PM2Ring "Sarcasm doesn't work on the Net." We figured this out years before Facebook existed. So it makes perfect sense to say he's being sarcastic and it isn't working as well as he thinks it does.
    – David K
    Mar 17, 2021 at 12:31
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    @PM2Ring I don't think we can conclude from a made-up example that the OP's relative is or is not successful. Sarcasm is lost on some people even in real life, so you can't expect 100% success, but certainly some sarcasm can be used in text. Of course no one ever misunderstands anything in text! (<-- See what I did there?) Mar 18, 2021 at 15:41
  • @user3067860 Fair point. Maybe it's the OP's made-up example which is failing to convey their relative's technique. FWIW, there have been some attempts to promote a sarcasm marker, eg reversed italics (see thenextweb.com/dd/2011/12/12/…) but they haven't taken off.
    – PM 2Ring
    Mar 18, 2021 at 15:47
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Assuming he's doing it to incite blowback on the people who actually hold the views he's pretending to espouse, he could be considered an agent provocateur carrying out a false flag operation.

From the Wikipedia link:

A false flag operation is an act committed with the intent of disguising the >actual source of responsibility and pinning blame on a second party.

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  • "False flag operation" is nearest here, as it names a technique. "Agent prov..." is a term for the agent. Would you mind adding a copy of a small relevant portion from the links you posted? This helps avoid link rot and makes the answer more "searchable". Cheers!
    – Conrado
    Mar 16, 2021 at 14:04
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    The difference between a false flag and satire is whether the audience is supposed to know it's insincere. It's not completely clear from the question whether OP's friend means for people to think he's sincere or not.
    – trent
    Mar 16, 2021 at 15:05
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    @trentcl, I think I agree with you, and this behavior strikes me as a mashup of trolling, satire, sarcasm, and false flag. Related ideas from the Wikipedia article on "false flag": On the internet, a concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the troll claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed "concerns".
    – ats
    Mar 16, 2021 at 15:59
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    False Flag is associated with war or at least politics and violence, and specific high-impact actions. As a non-example, the FBI (COINTELPRO) spies in left-wing groups inciting violence isn't generally called false flag. Mar 16, 2021 at 16:06
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Sounds like satire and/or irony to me.

As I understand it, he is saying those things ironically.

Explicitly stating someone's position or reaction to something in a way that highlights its absurdity or hypocrisy is a type of criticism called satire. This is sometimes used to humorous effect.

While it may be framing it or phrasing it in such as way as to highlight its absurdity, it's not inherently dishonest in that it's essentially making the same argument as those whom he is criticizing were making, or not straying too far from what the original argument that is being criticized was saying. Sometimes this is done by making an analogous argument or by drawing parallels between the argument being criticized and some ad hoc fictitious argument being made in the critique.

If your friend is making a highly exaggerated form of the argument, or extending it beyond the intent of the person who originally made it, to the point of absurdity, and then your friend criticizes the result, that is argumentum ad absurdum.

If your friend is substantively altering the original argument and then is criticizing the substituted argument that is similar, perhaps superficially, but not in fact the same argument the party being criticized was making, well then that is a straw man argument/fallacy.

It is also possible your friend may have just been mocking someone or their position. Mocking, ridicule, or derision is different than irony. Irony is a statement that, when taken in context, may actually mean something different from, or the opposite of, what is written literally; the use of words expressing something other than their literal intention.

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Trolling.

Your relative is engaging in a classic form of online trolling: posting incendiary statements in order to elaborate a response from others, taking advantage of Poe's Law to make his trolling comments believable.

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    @KannE As far a we are concerned here, "trolling" includes posts that are inflammatory in nature, and seek only to provoke a visceral response. Mar 16, 2021 at 18:09
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    Maybe there is an element of trolling in these kinds of posts, but that it a pretty blunt word to throw at a request for a nuanced description of the specific technique at use here. Trolling encompasses a huge range of behaviours
    – Bamboo
    Mar 17, 2021 at 8:49
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    Trolling is quite often used to describe comments that are off-topic, used only to disrupt/hi-jack a discussion, or otherwise cause chaos, rather than to highlight the absurdity of a viewpoint. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll Mar 18, 2021 at 16:02
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You could say he becomes a Caricature of the people he wishes to ridicule.

exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/caricature

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  • Also useable as a verb.
    – Casey
    Mar 16, 2021 at 18:34
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I would call this a form of Fabricated Premise
He is stating a premise which he then either debunks himself or goads others into refuting.
In the example in the post, the premise is stated as an overtly derogatory comment about women serving in the armed forces.
It seems clearly intended to provoke either an impassioned rebuttal or a dismissive scoff.
This is a favorite of politicians: "They will tell you that Medicare must be reduced to stay solvent, but I promise you there will be no cuts to Medicare."

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One aspect of your relative's argument technique is reductio ad absurdum. To prove a statement by reductio ad absurdum, you posit, for the sake of argument, that it is false, and then show that this would imply a consequence which is absurd. The point is that the only way this absurd consequence can be false is if the original statement is true.

There is a difference, admittedly. With reductio ad absurdum, you reveal your argument technique, and say to the effect of "suppose, just for the sake of argument, that this is false...". Your relative's twist is to pretend that he believes the statement is false. The ultimate intention --- to convince the audience that it is true --- is the same, though.

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Perhaps you're thinking of Hyperbole

Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. ... In poetry and oratory, it emphasizes, evokes strong feelings, and creates strong impressions. As a figure of speech, it is usually not meant to be taken literally.

Or from Literary Devices

Hyperbole is a figure of speech and literary device that creates heightened effect through deliberate exaggeration. Hyperbole is often a boldly overstated or exaggerated claim or statement that adds emphasis without the intention of being literally true. In rhetoric and literature, hyperbole is often used for serious, comic, or ironic effect.