I have, at times, experienced that opinions I share online fails to win people over, to the extent that the essence of the thread transforms from that of an exchange of ideas into that of a shitstorm.
Curiously, this is seldom caused by me having controversial views. I’m not especially hateful, and I don’t hold any conservative core ideas, such as advocating for an even less equal society or attacking or belittling various minority groups. If it were just that, then there would be no mystery; my views horrible, and for that reason, they provoke a strong reaction. But despite this not being the case, my views, which are truly very civilised and boring indeed, are sometimes intepreted in interesting ways.
I think the issue is me not expressing myself as well as I could. Assuming this to be the case, what follow is my own notes on how to better get your (mine) ideas across without misunderstandings.
Beware of the shortcoming of contemporary writing
Most of todays readers do not read. Rather, they impatiently give the text a quick glimpse, their brain already craving the next bit of novelty. I've noticed this in myself when I impatiently select random random test when trying to get my brain to read a text online. What's more, those who write has begin taking into account that their audience does not read. This has spawned a peculiar writing style which, for the first time in history(?), is designed not to actually be read, but merely glimpsed through.
It mostly consist of short paragraphs.
Often just a single sentence.
Sometimes two sentences. Maybe three. Four sentences are considered the max.
To help readers easier skim through it.
If actually read, it has a staccato-like feel.
Almost like free verse poetry.
There are other characteristica too.
- Scattering links throughout.
- Inserting “Read more about“ references to other articles.
- Inserting list such as this one.
- Adding heaps of headlines.
I guess pretty much everyone have seen this particular style, and, to some degree, adapted it themselves. So there is a tendency to naturally try to boil everything down to a single, ultra-short paragraph. However, human language is not computer code; trying to destill a deeper set of ideas down to a Xwitter-length sentence will inevitably cause its fragile essence to be lost in translation. There is a reason why books are the length of, well, books, and not just the SparkNotes summary thereoff.
To build upon this idea, note that most dog-whistles comes in the form of a single, short sentence, as the shortness, unlike computer code, make it vague, opening it up for multiple interpretations. Indeed, some dog whistles doesn’t contain any words at all, but consists of a single emoji, such as “milk” or “the OK sign”.
If you write about more elusive fluffy ideas, ideas where your angle runs the risk of being read the wrong way, your writing has to go all the way, fully exposing your point with absolute clarity. You have to show it from every angle to make your vision travel through the written words and into the mind of the reader.
Sleep on it
If you aren’t sure you got everything right, no rush. You can always wait a bit, and go over it later.
Don’t accidently target other users
Lets say that someone posts the notorious recipe “Chicken and ham extravaganta”, and say that they don’t think society should go vegan because a balanced diet is better than a green one. You just happen to have a bunch of replies to that. For one thing, flesh food is not traditionally balanced, but centered around the meat, with everything else being mere decoration. Also, there are lots of protein sources other than meat. But most importantly, the vegan movement is not about what is the most healthy diet, but about it being morally wrong to kill a sentient creature just to eat its meat.
But this is a general argument about veganism. If you write it as a reply to someone recomendinging a “Chicken and ham extravaganta”, you’re essentially calling them a bad person.
So don’t reply. If you want to push your point, at least wait a bit and then create a new post, so you don’t target a specific user.
Don’t drink and post
Nope. Just don’t.
Avoid provocateur headlines
I might have given this post the headline “How to speak honestly without being banned for misogyny, racism, transphobia, and fascism”, or maybe “I was banned and censored on tilde.net. Here’s my conclusions.” Headlines which are undeniably more juicy, more clickbaity, if you will. You can almost smell the raising adrenaline. Controversy! Read all about it!
To me, this is hard to resist, because I really love the aethetic of blatant, vulgar marketing. But it also tends to backfire more often than not.
Also, even if the actual content of my post is okay, people who have experienced racism or transphobia might not be super thrilled about me playing around with racism and transphobia in my headline. Saying something “jokingly” is still saying it.
As an aside, me being temporary banned and having my posts deleted was what inspired me to write this post. I don’t have anything much to say about this itself, other than I would have liked it if removed post had a line about the reason for removal, and I would also note that, if you get banned, the red text bleed into be backgrund in a way which is aestetically displeasing.
You might try mentally test reading your post from the perspective of groups which play a role in the content of your post. After all, if you talk about someone, you should be able to say it to their face. Also, it is entirely possible that your post will be read by those you talk about.
Take the rules for being a good listener, then invert them
Listening is a skill which most people haven’t learned. So when you speak your mind, it is worth taking precautions for the likely scenario that your readers will not follow the rules for the optimal listener. So let’s try inverting the rules:
When listening to others, always give their view the most generous intepretation —> If your words can be interpreted as ignorant, biggoted, or fashy, they will be, always.
Truly listen to others and try to understand them before giving your answer —> Assume that people will skim through your post.
I want to point out that (in bold and uppercase just for the heck of it) I DON’T SAY THIS TO WHINE ABOUT BAD PEOPLE READING MY POSTS UNFAIRLY. Nope, absolute nope. My point is the exact opposite; I have a deeply held belief that any writer or author who is “misunderstood” could have avoided it by writing better. The writer should be expected to know his audience and know how to write in circles around any potential misintepretation.
Got that? Ok. Let’s look at what we can do to address those two issues.
If your words can be interpreted as ignorant, biggoted, or fashy, they will be, always.
When writing a post, I sometimes get the notion that something I write might be taken the wrong way. But then I forget about it, because I’m busy building a clever metaphor finding just the right word. And without fail, my post get misinterpreted in exactly that way I thought it would. So always listen to that little voice. In my experience, it is seldom wrong.
This is not just to avoid you getting trashed online. Another more important aspect which is typically overlooked, is that if your post can, somehow, be misinterpreted in horrible ways, it may also be read as such by people who truly hold those views, people who then sees you as an ally. You really don’t want that.
Sometimes it is a simple matter of changing your phrasing. Other times, directly stating what you do or do not believe is in order.
Assume that people will skim through your post.
While you can’t predict exactly how our post is going to be skimmed through, It is likely that they will have read your headline. So use that as leverage to push your most important points, or the general vibe of your post. Your first paragraph is likely to be read too. If your post is longer, you can also add subheaders with key info. You can also use the inverted pyramid structure, leading with the information any reader must know, followed by things which will grant them greater understanding, and ending with the interesting nice to know stuff.
This is what I got so far! If you got any advice of your own, please share!