How are nonverbal messages communicated in an online enviornment?

Non-verbal messages are communicated in an online environment by means of the use of emoticons and bolded and italicized text. In order to portray anger, all capital letters can be used.

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Essentially, nonverbal messages can be communicated online in much the same ways that they can offline, depending on the online forum used. Most people think immediately of e-mail and other forms of text, such as online chat, when considering online communication. Even when using text, there are many opportunities for non-verbal communication. Punctuation, such as exclamation and question marks, can convey surprise or concern. Putting words or sentences in bold stresses their importance. Using capital letters communicates anger—or at least a strong desire for emphasis.

Beyond punctuation, people communicating online can use emoticons and emojis. They can also use other pictures, such as the ones in memes, combined with text. One might argue that meaning can be sharpened by these means, since the vast array of pictures which can be found online is not matched by anything in offline communication. The same is true of sounds. A moment of great relief or a momentous discovery could, for instance, be heralded by a few seconds of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" from the Messiah. Other pieces of music might well express subtle emotions more precisely than a personal reaction could.

Finally, since online communication includes face-to-face interaction through Skype, Zoom, and similar services, facial expressions and tone of voice are not excluded. The subtlety with which they are registered depends on the technical quality of the link, but there is no theoretical reason why such signals should not be as clear online as they are in person.

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Communication in a virtual environment is different to communication that is taking place face to face for a number of reasons. One of these reasons, as you have pointed out in your question, is the fact that nonverbal communication can't take place in it's normal way when communication takes place online.

First of all, in order to help you answer this question, I would like to explain what nonverbal communication is. It is defined as "the transfer of information through the use of body language including eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and more."

Secondly, it is important to point out the different ways of communicating online, as each of these ways is different with regard to how nonverbal communication is taking place. Communication online takes places either in written form (through emails and chats, for example), through sound (such as through an online phone call) or through both picture and sound (through video calls).

With regard to written communication, with neither direct visible nor audible contact, nonverbal communication can only take place through the use of the written language. For example, writing a sentence in bold letters or in capitals shows the recipient that this sentence is being empathized in the absence of visible body language or intonation. The use of emoticons (punctuation symbols used to produce a picture, such as :-) to represent a smiley face), emojis (actual pictures—for example, a person covering their eyes, which is used to indicate frustration) and gifs (short clips that convey a certain emotion or sentiment) are further examples of nonverbal communication taking place in written online communication.

In conversations that are taking place through speaking directly, through an audio-call, it is possible to hear the other person's voice, but not to see their facial expressions or body language. Here, nonverbal communication can take place through the use of intonation - a speaker can convey a nonverbal message through the use of a frustrated tone of voice, for example.

Lastly, in an online conversation that includes both video and audio, nonverbal communication takes place not only through the use of intonation, but also through facial expressions, as these will be visible in the video. For example, if a speaker looks sad when saying something, the conversation partner will be able to pick up on this, as they can see this facial expression.

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When we have a conversation with someone face to face, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language all play a significant role in the conversation. Non-verbal cues complement the words that we say to create a whole picture of what we are trying to say.

This will be much the same in certain online environments, such as if you are on a Zoom call. If you are relying on text only, however, I would argue that emojis become the most significant way to impart non-verbal messages. However, it must be remembered that it is far easier for a speaker to control the conversation and hide his emotions in such a context. It is easy to add a smiley face to a message even if you are extremely angry. The proliferation of emoticons in recent years means that there's one to portray pretty much every non-verbal message.

Adding bold or italicized text can also help with non-verbal communication in an online context. Such text naturally draws the eye to it and helps to create emphasis without the need for using only upper-case letters, which is read as shouting at someone. For example, if 8 am is bolded in the sentence "The deadline is 8 am," then a non-verbal message about the importance of this deadline is sent.

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When we communicate with one another face to face, nonverbal communication is very important to our ability to make ourselves understood.  This is one of the major problems with online communication.  In the online environment, we do not have good ways to communicate nonverbally.  People cannot hear our tone of voice.  They cannot see our gestures.  They have to rely on our words alone.  This can lead to misunderstandings, particularly about when we are joking or not.

Partly in response to this, we have developed a few techniques for nonverbal communication in the online environment.  Perhaps the most common of these techniques is emoticons.  We use things like :-D to show that we mean something to be amusing.  We also use things like writing a word in all capital letters to show that we are shouting.  We can put an asterisk on each side of a word to emphasize it, much as we might put a word in bold print or italic type.

In these ways, we can achieve some degree of nonverbal communication even online.  However, it is not as rich as the nonverbal communication we have in face to face conversation.

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