Any verbal exchange – whether a scientific panel discussion, lovers quarrelling in a hallway, or the political hard-talk of a live interview – is a very sophisticated human activity.
Besides the intricate relationship between syntax, semantics and phonetics of the language used – itself something that takes years to master – there are all the unwritten conversational rules about turn-taking and reading body language that need to be understood and practiced in order for any exchange of opinion to work effectively.
But on social media most of this other stuff is gone, and is part of the reason why the tone online is frequently so rough and unforgiving. This doesn’t make for platforms that are conducive to constructive and reflective deliberation, decision and action. Social media may not just increase asocial behaviour and feelings of loneliness, it may also promote or amplify anti-social behaviour.
A verbal exchange between physically present people is not only facilitated by what is being said but also by what is not being said. For example, looking into each other’s eyes while talking is an important gesture in establishing what may be considered common knowledge among the interlocutors. Reading the facial expressions of the participants determine whether they get the point, whether they agree to it, disagree, are agnostic, angry, sad, concerned, disconcerted about what is being said.