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Posted in Geek, The Wired Mom
January 6, 2023

Lack of tone: the trouble with the internet

I am internet old. I was 14 when we got AOL in our house, and yes, I absolutely did tie up our phone line constantly. I’ve come here today, my lovelies, to talk about something that people seem to not realize… Which is all about text, tone and mind reading. And that’s this- you can’t assume that the person on the other side of the screen knows your intent, your tone or what you were thinking.

For goodness sake, why do you think emojis exist? Without vocal tone, we’re left with nothing but word choice and a potential knowledge of the person writing it to get an idea of what they mean. There are countless articles about what it means if someone says “it’s fine.” in a text convo. The period especially.

But on social media? People are so quick to vomit out their joke or thought, they don’t consider what it reads like. And then when people are confused, they get angry.

It isn’t your audience’s job to understand what you mean. That’s your job.

Likewise, if you’re posting a joke, you’d better make damn clear that it’s a joke. Most of the time, the people reading your joke will not be a friend. It’ll be a person who is just trying to figure out if you’re serious or not.

Examples of text and reading tone

Here are three recent examples. Two of which I feel fall firmly into this discussion, and one using this discussion as an excuse.

The first was a “jokester” – a hockey reply guy responding to a former player turned commentator’s latest article discussing goalie gameplay. Guy says “You’re so full of it, I bet you never even played the game.” And everyone, the former player included, were confused. We all openly wondered if he’d bothered reading the bio. (Which happens. There are hockey fans who come in through RTs and have no idea) The guy doubled down, calling all of us who dared to tell him he’d made a mistake that we were idiots who couldn’t spot a joke. After he accused me of trying to be psychic, I finally had to point out that’s what he assumed we were. None of us knew him and none of us would care to after this. (I also pointed out that comedy is hard, and he needs to work at it some more)

The second was someone talking about Damar Hamlin’s injury. On Monday night, while we were all waiting for any kind of announcement from the NFL about the game being postponed, suspended, cancelled… A guy made a tweet that said something about football players being modern day gladiators who willingly sign up to sacrifice their bodies. They won’t cancel the game, and you’re foolish to think so. I saw it, and it read like he didn’t believe the game should be canceled and that good players would want to play. He came back and said that wasn’t his intent, that he was angry with the league, and was sharing their stance. I suggested he go back and re-read what he wrote, because I agree with him, but that isn’t how the tweet read.

And the problem

Now the last, the guy blaming it on misunderstanding tone? Oh that’s Skip Bayless. While we were waiting for any update about Damar’s health… He tweeted about how the fact that the game had important playoff implications and would need to be played. (I can’t remember the exact wording, because my husband read it to me and I’ve blocked Skip ages ago) And though he later added a “I hope he’s alright” sentiment, he didn’t seem to understand why people were upset.

Because for once – the audience was united in the truth. This wasn’t about the season or scores or who goes to the Super Bowl. That moment was about worrying about a man’s life, and feeling sympathy for his teammates who were shocked, stunned, and worrying for their friend and teammate.

All I did see were people saying that they couldn’t wait for Shannon Sharpe (Skip’s co-host on FOX Sport’s Undisputed) to tear into him. Which lately is what Shannon has been doing, far more often than would happen with a healthy working relationship. Skip will say something from a place of privilege – whether it’s ignoring racial implications of what he’s saying, trying to talk sports while ignoring the social issues attached to it… He’s been putting his foot in it more often than not.

Shannon wasn’t there on Tuesday. I quipped to my husband that the producers either wanted Shannon to stay home so that the focus would stay on the story and not Skip being Skip, or that Shannon was too angry to face him. And when Shannon came back on Wednesday, it was clear that it was both. He believed the producers wanted Skip to apologize on air, and didn’t want Shannon’s very justifiable anger to take away from Damar’s story itself. And frankly, the dynamic isn’t one that keeps viewers. I’m exhausted of watching Skip try to justify an ignorant hot take.

Skip said what he , that people misinterpreted his intent. When it was pretty clear what his intent was. He just doesn’t want to accept responsibility for trying to act like this was a sports story as usual, and is past changing. (He should retire, to be honest)

The bottom line

If you’re trying to say something that matters, remember that reading tone isn’t easy. Write what you mean to say and read it out loud. Pretend you’re saying it to a stranger, and ask yourself what you’d need to explain. Then edit it. Save yourself having to explain yourself to strangers, and do it the first time around.

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