Recently, more and more, I have been coming into contact with bad communication in online chats. Where I’ve upset others and where people have caused major misunderstandings, all through simple messages. It’s not something I really experienced until the last couple years, and it’s making me think about the entire way we talk online.

Or, I guess, the way I talk online. Syntax, formatting, punctuation, all of it.

As far as this blog goes, and my Letterboxd, and most all of my public postings, I write in this current kinda casual but well-formatted style. I wouldn’t write like this in an academic or business setting, no way. But it’s absolutely the way I write publicly, probably 95% of the time.

But this style is very bad communication in online chats. It’s so formal and grammatical that, if I used it in a chat, people would think I’m pissed off. Or at least… That’s what I’ve thought for a good fifteen years.

Back in the old days, on internet forums I usually kept my “public style,” plus a few 😛 and xD emojis because I was a middle schooler in the late 00s. I was raised on forums; that’s the meat of my internet youth. Instant messaging was something for one-off conversations with friends. There, the name of the game was speed, and I ended up adopting a writing style I keep to this day:

i never capitalize

actually on my phone keyboard i always turn off auto-capitalize on purpose

to keep it consistent

pretty much no punctuation. well almost

usually its pretty serious if i end any message with a period.

the messages dont always flow together like a perfectly grammatical sentence

but its okay lol

emojis rare except as reactions, too slow to type.

lots of one word reactions too

lots of abbreviations like idk, afaik, idr, internet slangs the best

messages can lack a subject, its mostly about typing fast

unless i go on rambles, in which case an entire message can be a giant paragraph, with way too many commas for what could possibly be considered reasonable by a human, but it’s only because i want to save the whole message just in case the other people chatting might interrupt the ramble and send me off track, my attention span is not the best after all

me

…And that’s basically been my chat writing style for ages.

The extra-casual style helps me relax. I don’t have to worry about writing well or how I come across; I can just type. A chilled-out mood in syntax and format.

But it’s causing problems with bad communication in online chats. I’m pissing people off in ways that never happened before. My writing style hasn’t changed, and I’m no more or less polite or sarcastic than I’ve ever been. I don’t THINK I’m an asshole. A self-centered worry-wart maybe, but I really try hard to be as un-abrasive as possible.

A few years ago, my friend once remarked that my text messages to them were downright laconic. It got me into a Spartan kick, and made me feel really proud. I hadn’t ever noticed the way I talked to people in that way, and it was cool I had ended up developing such a distinct style that someone could point it out.

Is the laconic style the problem, though? Does it give off the wrong impression that I’m callous and rude?

But bad communication in online chats isn’t just about writing style. So maybe it’s more than that.

After all, I know I’m bad at communication in a larger sense. I bottle up my feelings. I avoid confrontation, and often run away from problems instead of dealing with them. Women in online spheres tend to be very defusing and accommodating, and often avoid chatting altogether. I was raised more in male-dominated internet spaces in my younger years, but since I became a regular on IRC and Skype and Discord, I have adopted a sometimes egregiously conciliatory attitude. Maybe I’m avoiding things too much? Letting people shut down conversations too quickly, and then inadvertently shutting things down myself when I do have strong opinions?

But then again, maybe it’s just the sarcasm. I love sarcasm. I love short witty sentences that are fast to type and hide extra meaning in them. Being funny and keeping things light. And sometimes it doesn’t come across well! I mean, we all know the true power that an “ok” or thumbs emoji can bring (lol same author as the last link). I’ve had foreigners reply with “ok” before and I flipped out thinking they were angry, before remembering they were just Japanese.

Sarcasm, exaggeration, dry humor, etc. don’t come across well to everyone in text, which always served as a source of humor for me. But they’re also probably causing at least some of these problems with bad communication in online chats.

Being less sarcastic and less laconic is important. As much as I hate to say it, I’m causing problems. People who aren’t super fluent in English, people who are neurodivergent, people who misread a few words the first time they see it… I can’t fault anyone for misunderstanding my messages, because my messages often aren’t clear.

I’m beating myself up a lot in this essay, but I also want to note I’m not doing anything wrong, either. It’s not a moral imperative to type with extreme clarity and precision. Bad communication in online chats is ultimately a minor issue, because it’s inevitably going to happen no matter what. I misunderstand people’s messages too, all the time. As much as some emotionally manipulative people have tried to make me feel, this isn’t a high stakes TV drama. We’re chatting about, like, Mario or something.

Doesn’t matter though. I’m gonna feel guilty forever because that’s who I am. Is my tone too relaxed and sarcastic in public chats? Quite possibly. Should I be communicating more directly and clearly online in non-private-message spaces? Maybe. But if I really make an effort to do this, it will probably change my life. I’ll probably end up just chatting in public online communities a lot less.

But something has got to change, at least. I keep pissing people off, and I keep feeling terrible about it. I’m sorry for being a jerk.

But, in all this soul-searching pondering of bad communication in online chats, I’m pretty sure the culprit might be the system itself.

Discord is sort of ruining online communication as a whole. It started subtly, but it’s creeping into the way all of us interact, not only me.

I loved IRC chat, and Discord is a great successor to it. but Discord has become a hub for online communities big and small. A social network for practically every hobby and interest and friend group imaginable. Discord has replaced the forum, but our brains aren’t hard-wired for this kind of stuff. What was once “log on, reply to posts, check a few threads out, and log off” has become “200-message debate on a minor topic within ten minutes,” new messages available in your pocket or web browser at a moment’s notice.

We’re trained off social media, especially Reddit and X, to take the worst interpretation of whatever someone said. To dig our heels in and never apologize. To argue over semantics and call out people who did misdeeds as soon as we see them. Again, I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. In my early twenties I was not known for shying away from a fight in the comments section, pointless as it may have been. Fortunately, I’ve stopped that mostly… Except it’s leaking into online chats as well.

Discord’s forum-yet-chatroom structure creates a culture where fights and arguments are just weirdly common. I’ve offended friends, even close friends, off random messages I didn’t even consider would be controversial. Friends have pissed me off, including close friends, just through poor communication. Chatrooms are casual, yet public chatrooms are inevitably not.

The merging of the public and private… I guess this is a problem that afflicts the entire internet. And certainly me, too.

So, I might try a real effort to change the way I write, to prevent bad communication in online chats. But I worry it might just make me retreat altogether.

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3 thoughts on “Bad Communication in Online Chats

  1. I honestly may have 95% retreated altogether. (Although I was never active on many Discord servers in the first place.) Many people are becoming more and more aware that the need to chat fast and be right (things that are by no means exclusive to the internet but are well fostered there) aren’t always healthy, aren’t the only ways to talk to one another, don’t tend to foster deeper connection or understanding. It sucks.

    After offending people WAY too many times and fucking up, in ways for which I can only blame myself, I’ve tried to become more and more vigilant about the messages I send out before I send them. I’m just glad that hasn’t become paralyzing. I also try to offset my dry humor more by trying harder to make it obvious that “hey, this message is a joke and I don’t mean it.” Though I’m not sure it always works. Or that it will work in perpetuity, when someone from another community stumbles upon and goes digging through the files.

    But…overall I just feel less stressed-out when I’m not popping over onto a random Discord that “hey seems kind of fun” and seeing some other people’s random argument over semantics. Even just being an observer to that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Like, could they really not reconcile this some other way? Did they have to leave it angry at each other in the pursuit of right-ness over some shit like how to pronounce “lambaste”? And why do we keep doing this when I’m pretty sure ANYONE who has been online for enough years knows that it’s an endemic and infamous problem of online discussion?

    1. Very good thoughts, and your specificity on the example about “lambaste” makes it sound like you have seen that exact argument.

      And for people digging through past logs, that’s another sad thing about Discord. As much as I love having a long-term archive to search back through and reminisce, it also does not jive at all with my late 00s internet upbringing, where sarcastically saying derogatory things was the cultural norm. I have had to pound it out of my system for years not to say in public chats anything like, “Homophobia is amazing and great,” because there will eventually, inevitably someone who doesn’t get the self-deprecating irony. I’m not even sure the internet is worse for this, just that it’s a different culture now and adjusting is hard.

      1. (I’ve never come across an internet “lambaste” argument BUT I KNOW IT’S OUT THERE, and it came to my mind because I was shocked when a friend told me I’d been mispronouncing it all along, and I just didn’t believe them…until I looked it up. Luckily that didn’t turn into an ugly argument.)

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