In order to fully grasp the idea that I am expressing of with "context-poor" we need only to turn our attention to an apocryphal quote,
"Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is."
So what of internet meet ups? First off it is erroneous to regard the internet as a "meeting" place. As I hinted before I see the internet in terms of an accelerated periodical nature. This coupled with the fact most technologists are quick to point to the multitude of access locations as a sign of success, the most ready example is provided for us with the recent political protests in America. So with this admission I think we can safely put to rest any notion that people can actually "meet" online.
So if we were to examine this visually we might see our quote like this:
In our diagram we can see that our two heroes actually share a location, and of greater importance is the fact that this shared location provides reference and context. In this manner we may look at face-to-face interactions as contextually rich. Just in case anyone is having trouble visualizing what information is provided by face-to-face interactions I will list a few: time of day, nominal function of location and others present at the location.
Now what do I mean by nominal function? Here is where geography and society intersect. A park has a designated function within society, just the same as a parking lot, or church. This is in my measure one of the most important parts of context, the why. Why are you at the park at this time? What are you doing there? Often times face-to-face interactions provide that "why" at the gut level. The exact why may be illegible, but we generally have a good idea of why someone is where they are at if we happen to see or meet them there.
So how might a contextually poor environment like the internet look?
Our quote breaks down when actually applied to the internet. Here the distance between individuals isn't metaphorical, as in our quote, instead, it is real. Our quote places our individuals at the same place, and these individuals, via modern communication no longer share the contextually rich environment of location.
In this diagram our two heroes are cut off from one another and only share interaction online. This interaction might be "out of time" and there is no shared sense of society (and thus no community). The most important factor lost is the sense of "why?". In most online interactions no one has the faintest clue why someone is at such and such a website. Time and again this factor catalyzes snarky comments that passes for online discourse.
When meeting someone face-to-face we are much more likely to see the other person (both literally and figuratively) as a human. Why are you in the coffee shop? It would be a pointless question. Most people go to coffee shops to get coffee, the conversation is just incidental. It is in this way we have no real concern for what politics one might bring with them to the coffee shop, we wish to act accordingly inside of our (or someone else's) community.
None of this is true of course when it comes to the online world. Why am I reading this blog post? The gut question becomes loaded and primes the resulting comments into two separate and diametrically opposed camps. You can either criticize, condemn, or complain; or you may exalt, fawn, or champion, you can't, as a human, express much else. Human society, despite claims to the contrary, has yet to find a way to turn words or expressions into communal space. Rather these words can only be curated in a periodical instead.
Within this framework we see the concept of a troll develop. Everyone has an opinion and that opinion can be broadly placed subjectively in either the like camp or the critical camp. In this way everyone is just as likely to be a troll on at least somebodies page.
Now what does all this have to do with a fake news story? First of all these fake news stories grow out of the cultural phenomenon of comedy and satire. Normally we expect to find this sort of language and behavior either at a certain location or within a certain periodical. The internet has broken down this expectation.
A glance at any active twitter feed should clue you in. Some posts are earnest statements while others are sarcastic. Yet how do we tell? In general we must know a little context or else there is no hook to hang the satiric remark. This is what happened in our Onion tweets, people were unsure of the proper context. The retweet nature, and subsequent genealogical laundering (and the resulting contextual confusion), serves to confuse some of the possible audience.
Sarcasm is one of those tropes that hasn't translated well in the online space, as it is usually indicated by the tonal quality of voice and not strictly by content. Online we are stuck with mostly content and we thus are generally at a loss to describe in what tone it might have been written. This has led to the expanding use of snark, which relies on context provided by group associations. I won't get into snark in this post but suffice it to say that snark is a divisive troupe that is in common usage across the internet.
Now as an interesting aside, it should come as no surprise to many that there are questions over the geneology of our quote. No one seems to be quite sure whether William James did or did not utter this and in this way we can say that this quote is "context-poor." And unlike The Onion case, there are no definitive answers.
This quote's own path to modern times represents the same sort of periodical misunderstandings that the Onion's fake news tweets brought us. In the same way that this quote came to us today in an out of context manner so does much of the internet. Twitter, Facebook, or any other micro-blog seems tailor made to repeat such spurious wisdom or errant fact.
We now, as part of our online interaction, must concern ourselves with the genealogy of our information. Where did this information come from. It is easy to see how on twitter that genealogy is hard to track. The very mechanisms that allows for virility also obscure the original source. Some will matter of factly point out that it is easy to research the originator, but therein lies my point. Most people don't have the time or the tools to research the genealogy of perpetuating information. And yet the perpetuating information still causes real reaction.
In this way we find twitter capable of a smaller scale variant of the War of the Worlds radio problem. Of course the populations effected by this effect are more then likely not all be in the same location. So I don't think the problem in its modern context holds the same potential intensity, however, on a smaller scale this actually works against Twitter. Twitter may just be the platform but its mass availibilty and inability to verify geneology hamstrings any passage of information outside of vetted groupings.
So like all the new technology before people have yet to discover how to provide the needed context in certain situations. If this is fixable only time will tell. But as things stand now, we are suffer from loss of context during our interactions online.