Expletives Deleted: Swearing in Social Media

Do ya have to use so many cuss words?

Do ya have to use so many cuss words?

Lately, a few discussions regarding the use of profane or obscene language have wafted into my sphere of consciousness.

Recalling old media law debates on the meaning of decency as defined by community standards, these conversations have served to sketch out the huge gray area that is appropriateness in online communication.

If I write a blog for my company, and the company culture is not too conservative, can I write “WTF” in the blog comments? Should I edit or delete a user comment containing a reference to blowjobs?

If I’m just another social media user with nothing to lose, should I still refrain from sharing a joke about a prostitute based on the knowledge that someone at my company will eventually see anything I post and judge me accordingly?

Most interesting of all related questions, if I’m a sole proprietor or consultant whose business often comes through online channels, should I remain “human and authentic” (i.e., occasionally and as necessary employing slight vulgarisms) and attract the kinds of clients I enjoy working with; or should I refrain from all obscenities and profanities so as to widen the conversion bottleneck and risk losing as little new business as possible?

Many questions, many answers. Here’s an overview of some of the answers I got when I posted the general to-swear-or-not-to-swear question on Twitter:

15 thoughts on “Expletives Deleted: Swearing in Social Media

  1. I like the video blog and the use of Twitter responses for use of expletives in Social Media. I think you gave a great account for uses in social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc., but not including all of the social media genre. I use live video streaming, interactive chat and recorded video interviews in addition to social networking sites. In regards to live streams and interactive chat, what kind of control should be put on the users or moderators, if any? Just wanted to throw that out there. Keep up the great work, Jolie!

  2. @Chris You card, you. 😉

    @Abel Great question! I think that’s another gray area where, when in doubt, you have to consider the sensibilities of the users. If you’re doing a web workshop and broadcasting live to a bunch of ad agencies, you might allow a bit more leeway than for a more traditional, socially conservative audience.

    E.g., the excellent lads of http://www.fortysevenmedia.com do a bit of web design and such for churches; note their clever employment of the euphemism “kick awesome,” which allows them to express enthusiasm without costing them new business leads. As noted in the video, it’s all about 1) knowing your audience and 2) creativity.

  3. @Star Ah, L.D. It is, indeed, a paradigm shift for me. I think I’ve actually drastically curtailed my language IRL, as well, since I started hanging out with my family a lot more. It’s excellent perspective; you don’t realize how you sound until you drop the c-bomb in front of your grandmother. 😉 Which I haven’t yet, thank goodness and knock on wood.

  4. Okay, so, will you explain to me why there’s big this big tweetspolsion? I honestly don’t get the whole twittermania thing. Does everyone love it because it’s so simple? Like, we have status updates on myspace and facebook. Twitter only focuses on what you’re doing, and not who you are. Is that the gravy?

  5. @Jamielou It’s a bit more complicated once you build your network of followers/ppl you follow. It becomes a system of recommendations, Q&A, referrals, reputation-building, news coverage, CRM, trend monitoring… Anything you need it to be, really.

  6. I think the occasional casual swear is fine, dammit. It all depends on your audience, or more specifically, your audience’s expectations.

    Still, there’s something to be said for attempting to keep the language clean, especially when you consider how many people are browsing from work. Even Fark.com limits the use of profanity through the use of filters in an effort to keep the site safe for work-ish.

  7. @Chris Hey, thanks for the Twitter follow! And yes, for blog comments, a profanity filter is a great idea. More comments along these lines on the YouTube comments, too…

    @Sarah I almost lost my cookies when I saw the long-haired donkey. Nature is proof that God occasionally follows through on a bad idea. We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. 😉

  8. Big question, which you glossed over, on the WTF issue… what *exactly* is a swear word, a cuss, or the famous seven dirty words.

    Personally on the sites I write for, it’s regular english with almost zero swear words. There may be the occassional ‘mild’ word used, but generally I avoid them all in any comission.

    On my blog I tend to run the parents test. Would I say this in front of my Mum.

    Twitter is a bit more ‘chatty’ and is a weird area, and all i want to say on that issue is thank the gods that Battlestar Galactica is back, becasue “Frak” pulls double duty as being and not being a cuss in the same breath!

  9. @Ewan It’s my photoriffic, Lego-avatared, kilted SxSW pal!!! How are you, love?

    First, thanks for stopping by.

    Second, you’re quite right, of course.

    “Damn” you can practically say in church; the Almighty himself is quoted as damning people with great frequency, particularly in the Old Testament.

    Ditto for “hell”.

    The excremental s-word I give points for longevity and provenance; it seems to have been around for long enough to be in common parliance, doesn’t it? And our Teutonic friends don’t seem to take much offense to its German equivalent.

    However, the same case could be made (with the exception of the German bit) for the dreaded (but much loved among feminists, actually) C Word. Woo-hoo, and isn’t that one supposed to be to be the doozy of them all? But a recognizable form of the word dates back at least to Chaucer and is employed to charming effect in the Wife of Bath’s Tale by the eponymous protagonist.

    Ultimately, I myself take offense at language that was intended to offend.

    Of course, that being said, I never could hear the n word without cringing. It’s the white Southerner in me.


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