“Putting smiley faces at the end of every statement where you claim not be to a racist isn’t terribly convincing.” — me in LOTRO world chat
I try to avoid responding to obvious trolls in game world chats, but one troll in particular when called on his trollishness by others started putting smiley faces at the end of every statement “to lighten the mood”. I had to call it out for what it was. This deliberate miscommunication ploy annoys me more than overly-cheerful people using endless streams of emoticons who are sometimes equally overly-emotive in person. (The latter annoy me greatly and tend to also be morning people, annoying me even more.)
Emoticons evolved out of a real need in online communications to keep the spontaneity of chat while filling in some missing cues that might be obvious in a face-to-face or telephone conversations. My rule of thumb is to use them where I would actually emote in person, laugh or smile or make some kind of semi-rude gesture.
Lately though they are misused as a calculated form of plausible deniability, an emotional manipulation that most of the people using them couldn’t pull off in person. Imagine those emoticon-laden conversations as if they were face-to-face. Imagine that person–any person–emoting that much face-to-face and doing it immediately after saying hurtful or ignorant things. Imagine how you would react to that person. What would you think of that kind of insincere emotional manipulation?
You’d think that person is a sociopath.
Obviously online communication is different than face-to-face, but I disagree with people who characterize it as “not real life”. There are real people at the ends of both kinds of conversations, and those conversations both convey information and alter emotional states in participants. That sounds real to me.
It used to be that relatively normal people in real life would come off as rude and awkward in online conversations because they had no idea of the tone of what they were writing. Many flamewars at work and on the Internet as a whole started that way. This new behavior feels different, like a kind of social engineering around the slack we learned to cut people because of how common online miscommunication is.
In this particular case, I think people lacking the ability to be talented sociopaths face-to-face enjoy a kind of sociopathetic liberation behind walls of text. I think we need to recognize that and treat them accordingly.