The Complex Question Fallacy

The Complex Question Fallacy

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“A question that has a presupposition built in, which implies something but protects the one asking the question from accusations of false claims. It is a form of misleading discourse, and it is a fallacy when the audience does not detect the assumed information implicit in the question, and accepts it as a fact.”


  • Have you stopped beating your wife?
  • Is (well known personality) an arrogant jerk?
  • Do you still believe we should kill all the stray dogs?

Source: Complex Question Fallacy

Wikipedia has much more on the technique:

A loaded question or complex question fallacy is a question that contains a controversial or unjustified assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt).

This happened to me on Twitter yesterday where someone who had read none of my work, did not understand any of it, but decided to frame his defamatory comments in the form of questions, similar to wording like “So you think people should be dying in the streets?” implying that I think people should be dying in the street.

Framing allegations as a question is a tried-and-true tool of propagandists. It plants an accusation in the target’s mind, and might slip past being actual defamation. Rather than saying “You are a stupid jerk”,  we simply frame it as a question: “Are you a stupid jerk?” letting the question carry the implied conclusion. And since you did not actually call someone a stupid jerk directly, is it defamation?

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