The Limitations of Text as Contributors toward Miscommunication and Reciprocal Incendiary Comments

| Tuesday, September 7, 2010
You may be familiar with the debate over net neutrality. This has nothing to do with that.

Instead I just want to give a little reminder: there is no tone of voice, facial expression, and very often little to no context when communicating on the intertubes. This means that irony, sarcasm, parody, and just about anything other than being a total asshole will often fail to be communicated.

Here are some bits that might be relevant to whatever is going on.

In face to face communication, misunderstanding may be readily apparent. This allows it to be corrected. The correction begins with the speaker noticing that the listener misunderstood; either by failing to draw the same information as the speaker intended or by receiving nothing at all. Noticing can be a simple matter of seeing a confused expression, a non-verbal and automatic form of communication. Verbally, the speaker may notice a disconnect between expected feedback and actual feedback. The speaker can then attempt to correct the misunderstanding. The correction may or may no be understood by the listener, but through an exchange of words, non-verbal cues, and feedback on each, the two individuals, or a larger group, can eventually sort through the misunderstanding . This process is more likely to fail in online, text-based communication. It is this failure to notice and correct misunderstanding, along with increased chance of misunderstanding, which set the stage for flaming.

Comparing phone and email communication it was found that small amounts of cueing information, such as race, heavily influence perceptions of email messages, even with the exact same words. Small amounts of identity information allow for stereotypes to be activated and fill the gaps. The irony created is that the potentially race-blind online world of text can instead become focused on nothing besides race and potentially negative stereotypes.

Due to the lack of voice or facial expressions, messages which are intended to carry emotion can be perceived as having neutral emotion (Byron, 2008). This causes praise to seem muted or non-existent. In extreme cases, praise which does not carry emotion may be perceived as sarcastic. These tie in with negativity effects. In face to face communication negative information can be tempered with consolatory gestures such as a hand on the shoulders or expressions of empathy such as matching of facial expression. Lacking these moderating gestures, negative information from the writer to the reader can be perceived as personal attacks.

Yes, the paper is about flame wars.

Unlike the previous Tech News Focus, this one isn't made up.


Shintar said...

Would you mind linking to the whole thing? It sounds interesting.

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