It is mortifying to be misunderstood. Politicians and celebrities know this well, crafting public statements with the care of a lace maker to avoid misapprehension. But what if we held each other’s statements up to such scrutiny, imbuing them with subtexts so unforgiving that the speaker can hardly recognize their own speech? Would we speak freely, or would we self-censor to avoid our words being misconstrued? On social media, these misunderstandings happen more than in real life. The idea of “context collapse” helps explain why. Coined in the early 2000s by the researcher Danah Boyd, context collapse refers to the fact that social platforms rob users of the ability to differentiate between varying audiences. Each communiqué must be read and understood (or misunderstood) by everyone in a network. The care needed to avoid misunderstandings is exhausting: Writer Jason Bartz has compared it to his wedding, where This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty-Four Buy Now Related Stories Arts & Culture Issue 45 Bad Idea: Paper Straws On the straw man of sustainability. Arts & Culture Issue 43 Bad Idea: P-Hacking What happens when researchers go fishing. Arts & Culture Issue 42 Bad Idea: Year Wraps An algorithmic celebration of your most depressing digital data. Arts & Culture Issue 41 Bad Idea: Stereo Type The omnipresent embarrassment of “exotic” type. Arts & Culture Issue 38 Bad Idea: Gender Reveals It’s time to burst the (pink or blue) bubble of this trend. Arts & Culture Issue 37 Bad Idea: Lawns A green and pleasant death knell for diversity.