The irony of “context collapse”

So, I’m not sure where I picked up the term “context collapse,” but the way I’ve been using it is extremely different than how it’s defined in academic circles:

Context collapse “generally occurs when a surfeit of different audiences occupy the same space, and a piece of information intended for one audience finds its way to another” with that new audience’s reaction being uncharitable and highly negative for failing to understand the original context.

This is… sort of how I use it, but not entirely; Wikipedia goes on to provide examples which all involve text being meant for one audience and read by another for whom it wasn’t intended.

The way I’m using it would be better defined as: using terminology in ways which make sense in one context, but when taken out of context can mean something very different, often with the opposite of its intention.

Or, in broader terms, using information that makes sense in one context in an inappropriate manner for another context, often by chasing through a chain of linked contexts without adapting the underlying information based on its new context.

So, is there a better, more established term out there that captures the phenomenon I talked about yesterday? Because it would be incredibly ironic if I ended up causing even more confusion by using a term that means vastly different things in different contexts, when talking about that very same phenomenon.

The Dangers of Context Collapse

Context collapse is a favorite tool of Internet trolls and other disruptive influences1, but it has so many other implications. It’s important to avoid it, and to recognize where context collapse is leading to incorrect beliefs or actions.

Context collapse itself is the phenomenon of highly-contextual information being used, purposefully or otherwise, in an ambiguous manner which leads to confusion. A pretty common example of this is the word “theory;” in colloquial speech it means the same thing as “hypothesis” in scientific speech. This leads to a very common chain of reasoning: the theory of evolution (in the scientific sense) becomes “just a theory” (in the colloquial sense), which then is purposefully used to sow seeds of doubt in people using the phrase colloquially, when scientifically-speaking it’s established fact.

This ends up being a huge issue in a lot of unexpected places, which can often result in extremely unfortunate results which can negatively impact peoples' livelihoods, even with the best of intentions.

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