Tone Indicators: A Little Dive-in

September 16, 2021 4:15 am || By


This past decade, the presence of social media has affected and shifted the way people interact. It’s quite known that people—especially the youth—are now more vocal and political. As a lot of social issues get more attention these days, one of the rising propositions is the normalization of the use of tone indicators. The idea came as a way to help the neurodivergents (a term to describe the people who have certain neurodevelopmental conditions) to understand more contexts and social cues correctly in social media, something that wasn’t exactly possible before the age of social media. However, it also came into attention that some parties aren’t so much in favor of this idea—some from the neurodivergents themselves, some from the non-neurodivergent ones. In this article, we’re going to discuss people’s perception towards the use of tone indicators.

Communication between people involves a lot of factors and creates multiple interpretations. Even on face-to-face communication with the gestures, how a message is comprehended can differ depending on the receiver’s background and situation. The ability to understand social cues play a huge part in conversations,

The rise of tone indicators use can be observed throughout Twitter especially with the abundance of pop culture fan communities present there–be it anime, western or even Korean pop music communities, or as the popular term people would address them, stan twitter. As these communities tend to develop slangs, sentence structures of their own, the use of tone indicators is also campaigned a lot from the said communities.

Since it is a movement that was born and spread recently through social media, the “guide” itself varies from multiple sources. One of the compiled lists that we can find would be from a carrd, a platform that can provide a lot of references in one single page, created by user. Here’s the compiled list:

Image 1 A “masterlist” for tone indicators from

Research Design

The data is retrieved from the subreddit r/autism with posts containing the keyword “tone indicator”. The discourse will then be analyzed using sentiment analysis, to understand people’s current attitude toward the use of tone indicators.


Based on the natural language processing analysis on the data retrieved, the responses were separated into submission and comments. Reddit works in threads where discussion starts as submission, then every comment in reply to the original submission is added as the first level. Comments who are in response to the first-level comments are in the second level tier, and so on.

There were a total of 239 posts containing the keyword. Out of all submissions, neutral sentiment dominated the discourse with 141 submissions (59%), followed by negative with 84 submissions (35%), and positive with 14 submissions (6%).

Figure 1 Sentiment analysis ratio on the submissions

Neutral posts

The neutral ones are usually filled with questions of opinions and an open discourse. For example:

One of the indicators that are talked about a lot is “the S”, or “/s”, the tone indicator used for sarcasm. Some people think that might kill the purpose of sarcasm itself. Which is why there’s some submissions asking about the use of it, like this one:

Negative posts

The negative submissions mostly show skepticism towards the real use of tone indicators. Some admit that it’s confusing:

Other negative responses also include strong opposition towards the use of it since a joke is supposed to be known without any further explanations.

Uniquely, there’s also a user who found tone indicators weird yet wondered if it’s caused by the internalized ableism they adopted. Ableism is the act of discrimination towards people with disabilities (Linton, & Bérubé, 1998). Thus, the discourse was opened through this negative skepticism.

Positive posts

Although only making up a small percentage, there are still some people who appreciate the use of tone indicators. Some find it useful because they make jokes to be clearer.

The Comments

The comments were actually dominated by negative responses from the users, taking up 748 negative responses out of 1604 total comments (47%). Neutral responses take second place with 654 comments (41%), then with positive responses at last with only 202 comments.

Figure 2 Sentiment analysis ratio on the comments

Negative comments

Neurodivergents, as the target that people want to help with the use of tone indicators, don’t always show excitement towards it. There’s even some who felt like it wasn’t exactly necessary to the point of patronizing:

Some others even argue that it could be “infantilizing”, insulting, or even being too far as assuming that neurodivergents can’t understand jokes at all.

Opposition also comes from the neurodivergents, who find it either too complicated or ruining the purpose of speech itself.

Neutral comments

Meanwhile, one of the users doesn’t always find it to be useful, but rather explains why they disagree as speech can always get misunderstood.

Another one thinks there’s no harm in using them.

Positive comments

The positive comments mostly are talking about how it has been super useful for them in understanding more contexts. For instance:


In Reddit, the submissions as the thread starters mostly begin with genuine questions asking people about their thoughts on tone indicators itself. Most work as a discussion starter. However, on the comments, it seems like the opinions are more polarized towards negativity on the use of tone indicators, taking up almost half of all the comments. A lot of people are so against it, whether it’s coming from the neurodivergents themselves or even from the non-neurodivergents, arguing that it’s too frustrating. Another argument would also be how they don’t like that it’s more used as a “woke agenda”, something that’s more performative or token activism instead of the true purpose itself—that is to help people understand language. Some people are bothered by the fact that it’s even forced by the communities who are not even neurodivergents themselves.

Nonetheless, there’s a certain pattern that we can highlight: positive sentiment always takes the least percentage in both submissions and comments. While the negative comments have a lot of arguments on why they don’t exactly like to use tone indicators, the positive comments and submissions mostly rely on one reason: that they’re very useful in understanding the context, especially on jokes and sarcasm. We can safely conclude that on Reddit, most users are more in opposition towards the use of tone indicators itself. Marcus (2020) noted that since tone indicators are heavily used on Twitter and Tumblr, there might be a linkage that tone indicator is one of the things that’s caused by the limitations created by social media platform formatting. However, it seems to be different on Reddit where people are opposed to it. Future studies might explore more on how different platforms and their formatting (or even demographics, too) can cause a lot of differing opinions regarding one of the fundamental cues to help people understand each other better, that is tone indicators.

Author: Nuhida Kinansa Husainy

Editor: Josia Paska Darmawan

Data collecting and processing: Vidiskiu Fortino Kurniawan and Nadia Elaesiana


Linton, S., & Bérubé, M. (1998). Claiming Disability: Knowledge and IdentityNew York University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780814751343.

Marcus, E. (2020,  December 9). Tone Is Hard to Grasp Online. Can Tone Indicators Help?. Retrieved from

Tone Indicators. (n.d.). Masterlist. Retrieved from