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Whataboutism (also known as Whataboutery) is a form of defensive propaganda used to counter criticism (usually from "the West", and usually on blatant human rights abuses) with a "What about...?"—question vaguely, if at all, related to the original issue. It is a specialized red herring version of the tu quoque fallacy, sometimes implementing the balance fallacy as well. An old favorite of Communists (especially tankies),[1] the strategy originates from the Soviet era, and was usually used in the form of "And at your place, they hang black people".[2]

Simply put, whataboutism refers to the bringing up of one issue in order to distract from the discussion of another. It does not apply to the comparison and analysis of two similar issues in terms such as why some are given more social prominence than others.


[edit] Examples

  • As mentioned, one of the most common examples of this fallacy was Soviet responses to criticism by pointing out the United States' own failings, such as the mob lynching of blacks. "And you are lynching Negroes" (or "And you are hanging blacks", as the term Negro fell into disrepute) was a common joke in the Soviet Union at Murica's expense,[3] used when Americans accused the Soviets of violating human rights. While often just an informal joke, sometimes this argument was used seriously. It's a tu quoque argument and a type of whataboutism.[4] Instead of attempting to justify the behaviour of the Soviet Union, this argument is an easy way to deflect blame onto America by implying they're hypocrites.[5]
  • In the current era, a rather common use of whataboutism is seen from defenders of Israel.[6][7][8] No matter what Israel does to inspire global protests and objections—such as the 2014 "Operation Protective Edge" that slaughtered over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, a quarter of them children[9]—many Israel-defenders try to change the conversation by asking "What about [fill in the blank with Iran, the Ukraine etc.] Some even admit to the whataboutism, but think it is nevertheless at least partially justified: "It is whataboutery, yes, but a legitimate piece of whataboutery I believe."[10]
  • Russia invading a country is okay because IRAQ and LIBYAWikipedia's W.svg.[11]
  • A complaint about the excessive bureaucracy involved in getting some clothes dry-cleaned was met with a complaint about the difficulty in getting a UK visa for Russian citizens.[12]
  • In response to criticism of China's human right record at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, Chinese diplomat Fu Cong told the Council, “The US is notorious for prison abuse at Guantánamo prison, its gun violence is rampant, racism is its deep-rooted malaise. The United States conducts large-scale extra-territorial eavesdropping, uses drones to attack other countries’ innocent civilians, its troops on foreign soil commit rape and murder of local people. It conducts kidnapping overseas and uses black prisons."[13]
  • Cuba will often criticize various (admittedly bad) United States domestic policies to direct attention away from its own domestic policy failures. One example comes in the form of a reprimanding of American treatment of Puerto Rico, an island with over a century of American control under its belt.[14]
  • Whenever criticism of Islam comes up, its apologists typically tend to:
    1. Randomly invoke US foreign policy (the textbook definition of whataboutism)
    2. Appeal to the Crusades as if they were recent events (while handwaving contemporary Islamist terrorism)
    3. Recite (admittedly horrible) quotes from the Old Testament, even when their opponent is neither Jewish nor Christian, nor has even invoked the Bible to begin with.

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