Poe’s Law

I am intrigued by Poe’s Law about writing, especially social media posts,  for which there are no contextual or body language clues with regards to sincerity.  Here are some thoughts on clarifying Poe’s Law and related concepts.

“Poe’s law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers or viewers as a sincere expression of the parodied views.” – Wikipedia Poe’s Law

I haven’t found a precise definition of Poe’s Law that stands up to scrutiny.   Often the definitions rest on the concept that at least one person will misinterpret a statement of satire, parody, sarcasm, or facetiousness.  The law also says it is impossible to create satire so extreme that at least one person won’t misinterpret it as sincere.  

The creator’s intent is either:

  • sincere
  • satire

The interpreter’s can percieve the post as being:

  • sincere
  • satire
  • unsure

This yields six combinations.  The sincere-sincere and satire-satire combinations are fairly uneventul because both people understand the polarity of the communication.  The unsure interpreter can take steps to clarify if desired.  The real issues occur when we have sincere-satire and satire-sincere because the ideator and interpreter have miscommunicated.

If the interpreter now applies the LIKE tag to a post, then a third person, an observer, can interpret the LIKE as being:

  • sincere
  • satire
  • unsure

So now we have 18 combinations of the interpreter’s possible interpretations of the LIKE.

Anyway, this is leading nowhere fast. My takeaway is that it is unwise to conclude you understand the views of another social media ideator or interpreter based on their posts, comments, and likes. As with any communication it is better to clarify any potential misunderstandings.

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