Common Pitfalls of Online Communication

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Reading emotion in a story can be easy because of details provided by the author, but what about online communication when the author and reader is you? In this lesson, we will discuss the common pitfalls that occur in the world of online communication that can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Reading Emotion

In school, we read a lot of books, but do we ever stop and think about reading people? We do it all the time, in every conversation we have, but rarely do we stop and think about the process of observation and unconscious analysis that goes along with communicating. Most of this process comes naturally as we learn to communicate with others. But what about online communication? Do you think there is a difference?

Read this lesson to learn about the pitfalls of online communication and how the absence of the other person can cause confusion and misunderstanding.


If someone texted you, 'I loved the movie,' what would you assume? It seems as though this person loved the movie but, since we can't hear the person's tone, does she really love it?

What if we were reading a book and the line read: 'I loved the movie,' she said sarcastically.

The word sarcastically connotes the opposite meaning of the original sentence, but in texting and other sources of online communication, we are missing those written cues.

If we heard the original line spoken with a sarcastic intonation, we would know this person is not being serious about her statement. But without the person in front of us speaking to us, there are a lot of gaps the reader has to fill in on his own.

Without hearing tone, it is hard to decipher mood through online communication.
woman on cell phone

Why is this important? Because when we communicate through social media and other online platforms, if we aren't careful, we can get ourselves in trouble. Misreading tone online can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. When communicating over any online platform without the other person, or video image, in front of you, it's important to say what you mean, and mean what you say, oftentimes explaining it, too. If you write something sarcastic, make note of it, especially if you do not know this other person well. The same goes for the opposite. If you are unsure what someone means, don't be afraid to ask.

Facial Expressions

When we are face-to-face with a person, we are able to observe things that aren't being said. If someone types 'I'm fine' into a message, maybe he is fine. But if the person was in front of us, maybe we would notice that he is frowning, or his eyes are beginning to water.

Online platforms separate us from the people are we interacting with. This separation, while seemingly safe, breeds miscommunication and a disconnect of emotion.

Emojis have joined the battle in helping end some aspects of miscommunication because we can literally add a facial expression to a text. An emoji is a small picture used to express an emotion or idea through technological means, such as a smiley face. Emojis can be helpful if you and the other person are able to read the emoji as if they were the other's face.

Look at it this way: 'I'm fine. :)' connotes that the person is seemingly happy, whereas 'I'm fine. :(' suggests the person may be just okay, but something deeper emotionally is happening.

Body Language

Just like facial expressions, body language plays a huge role in how we communicate with others. A person's body language suggests how a person is doing emotionally, just as a person's facial expression can hide or show pain, joy, etc.

While there isn't really a way to combat missing body language, the goal is to be honest and clear about what you mean when submitting any information on an online platform. The more information you add to your online conversations, the easier it is for both parities to avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding.

When communicating online, such as writing an email or messaging on social media, it is important to be clear and honest about your feelings and needs to eliminate confusion and misunderstanding.
man typing on laptop

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