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Is there a place for Swearing in Social Media?

Fuck You - The Anti-Social MediaAt this rate, I’m going to call this week the Chrysler week, because everything I keep writing is somehow related to that terrible company.

Anyways, I read Gini Deitrich’s take on the Chrysler tweet that won’t die. I appreciated her insights as an agency owner, and as I was reading the comments, I was floored at Gini’s comment, “I think it’s wholeheartedly inappropriate to swear online.”

What the f-bomb? What internet do you live on Gini?

I’m so sick of the cult of damned personal branding and professionalism. They want to be big-f#$*%n’ brother. They proclaim that you can’t have one “damn” online because any little shit who ever looks you up will grab you by the balls and cast your scrawny ass into the hell for typing one curse word. Every nasty word you’ve ever used as a writer or blogger will come back to bite you in the ass, so you better hope you wiped your ass clean and there isn’t any toilet paper left clinging on.

I know that brands and companies shouldn’t be swearing. That’s just asking for trouble. But people are different.

People swear in the real world, and they swear a lot. Many people let out a “shit” or a “damn” or bless my heart, a “fuck.” And people curse online all the time. Knowing how and when to use each of your words is what makes someone a great communicator. Would you manipulate a myriad of utterances, or would you use a bunch of words? Great ideas are not always expressed in ten-cent words but four-letter ones.

Great writers know how to use their language to write for multiple audiences. Audiences who use words like “damn” and “fuck” and audiences who confabulate. It’s all a matter of choice and timing. Do we all make great choices? Of course not. Knowing which crappy word to use and when to use the damned word is what separates the great writer from the mediocre.

What do you think? Is swearing online best left to faceless trolls? Does it have a place in our online dialogue, or are personal brands too precious?

50 Responses to Is there a place for Swearing in Social Media?

  1. Mich March 15, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    I wouldn’t like the think that there is a swearing police online or that you have to be PC. Anything PC gets my heckles up. But swearing is a reflection of a brand or person online.
    If it’s a brand selling products for Mother’s Day or pet products, you wouldn’t expect to see swear words. On other sites or SM platforms, people use the F**** and whatever words because they actually use them in real life.
    At least that’s my experience on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Most of the time, when you remove all the swear words, there’s very little substance left. So it’s a good persona to play up and you get a lot of cheerleaders.
    Unless, as you say, the swear words are well used by a good writer, in an appropriate way, languages have enough nuances to be able to express yourself and make a point. And that is also the sign of a good writer :-)

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

      Who needs nuance when you can drop an atomic bomb?

  2. John Morrow March 15, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    If there can be crying in baseball, there can be swearing in social media. Just be careful who you call a hormone-laden botoxed hellcat… guys hate it when you call them that.

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

      I tear up every time I get called a hell cat online.

      • Danny Brown March 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

        That’s probably because you’re more like a PMS’ing pussycat, mate. ;-)

        • Jay March 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

          That explains the cramps.

  3. Morgan March 15, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    I agree that it’s a matter of timing and how you use the swear. Honestly, if someone is just swearing to just to swear, it’s ridiculous. I love to swear. Anywhere and everywhere. However, if the company does not deem it appropriate, then that’s just the way it is.

    But that doesn’t mean that swearing has no place online.

    I don’t know in what interwebs Gini is living in, but I don’t want the kind of interwebs that doesn’t swear.

    • Gini Dietrich March 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

      It doesn’t bother me that others swear online. My comment was taken a bit out of context as it was part of a larger conversation about our social media policy. We don’t allow it as part of our personal and company brands online. Mostly because, even if we’re not tweeting for clients, we represent many, many companies and we don’t know who would be offended by that.

      • Erica Allison March 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

        Gini,
        I agree with you on this one. As an agency owner, I would be very upset if my assistant or anyone else working on a project with me represented us in a less than professional way. To me, swearing does not equate to professionalism. Yes, there are loads out there who do it on a regular basis (I’m no saint – off line,) and they do it with lots of humor, often making excellent points (RedheadWriting for example). On them it works. On me, not so much. So, I choose not to do it online. Bottom line, I don’t think it’s appropriate when you’re the voice, the tweet or the page of a business to do it online.

      • Jay March 15, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

        It’s interesting. I admit I took your comment out of context, but at the same time, there wasn’t too much context that gave it the nuance you show below. I believe it’s part of the funny way we can’t/won’t read everything to have full understanding.

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

      Damn right.

  4. Ace March 15, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    In the public speaking arena, swear words are often referred to as “color words,” (no, that’s not a racist thing). I think the same can be said in Social Media – given the black-and-white nature of text updates on Facebook, Twitter, etc., the occassional swear word definitely adds some color to what is out there. Just like in elementary interactions, though, no-one is going to bat an eyelash at the guy swearing left-and-right, but when the prim-and-proper types throw out a “shit,” you can bet they’ve got some extra eyes looking at them. It humanizes their efforts a bit more, plus it shows them stepping out of the box, if only for a second.

    I’m a stickler for writing properly (hell, I proofread an email to friends about Friday plans at least 3 or 4 times), and I know that swear words can definitely help get a point across. However, I don’t think I’m ready just yet to email a coworker with “Where’s that fucking report?”

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

      I once started a Pecha Kucha speech with “How many people here use facebook? What the fuck is wrong with you all?”

      Yeah, I probably wouldn’t send that e-mail either. Probably because I’d expect a snarky about a report about fucking in return.

  5. Jacob Stoops March 15, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    I agree, there’s nothing like a few well-placed cuss words to let people know what you really think. I think there is a place online for swear words in moderation, and people certainly shouldn’t be thrown to the wolves or the pits of social media hell for dropping an F-bomb every once in a while. To me, it is all a matter of context and how you use the words. If you’re dropping bombs just to drop bombs then it probably doesn’t make sense, but here and there it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I agree that companies who use swear words in their online efforts may be asking for trouble.

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

      Does this mean I need to stop swearing just for the sake of getting attention?

  6. Maggie March 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    I’m with you on being sick of having to create a personal “brand” online and feeling like every.single.thing you do on the vast internets has to be sanitized or hidden behind a different username or anonymous for fear of your employer or a potential employer seeing it and realizing, gasp, you have a life outside of the workplace.

    As for swearing online…. I’m with you. Don’t be such fucking pansies about it. We’re adults. They are words. It’s all about context. As long as you aren’t directing your words at an individual person, it’s all in good fun. Of course I’m married to a Sailor. (The stereotype is 100% true … I’m often impressed by the creative uses they have for swear words.)

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

      I wish I had some connection to sailors so my curses would have more flavor. But alas, I am a land lover through and through.

  7. Danny Brown March 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    It’s all contextual. I understand why Gini won’t swear online, but then I also appreciate a good curse. I’ve dropped the F-bomb on my blog posts and online, and I had a post entitled “Shit Is Still Shit No Matter How You Dress It”. If I feel a post or commentary needs extra emphasis, I’ll use the language appropriate for it.

    Billy Connolly sums it up best: “There’s nothing like the word fuck. You can say go away, shoo, leave, all you want, but nothing gets the point across like a good ‘fuck off’.”

    True dat. :)

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

      Yeah, I get why Gini does what she needs to do too. Jay Dolan the Social Media Project Coordinator does not write like Jay Dolan the Anti-Social Media blogger

      And there is nothing like the perfect word for the perfect moment.

    • Claire Wagner March 16, 2011 at 1:19 am #

      I wish this comment had a Like button. *Like

  8. Deb Ng March 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I’m not a fan of swearing online because I’m not a fan of excessive swearing. It makes me cringe – I guess I’m old fashioned that way. I always feel creative people can find better words to use. And no, I don’t find swearing to be professional. While I agree it depends on the context, and yes, choice words do feel good from time to time, I do find it to be good manners to be respectful in language and not just swear for swearing’s sake.

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

      I agree. I don’t swear at work, and I really only do it here when I am “in character.”

  9. Patrick Reyes March 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Everyone brings up great points, but I was in Gini’s camp of not swearing. Like those that choose to, it’s a personal choice. I do believe people can choose not to use profanity and be just as an effective communicator as those that choose to thrown in a 4-letter word here and there.

    I lean toward keeping it clean regardless of online or in person.

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:00 am #

      Good points. Still, this is the anti-social media, and I fight dirty. ;)

  10. Gini Dietrich March 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    You’re hilarious! I just don’t think the F bomb is appropriate for online communication. It doesn’t offend me if someone else tweets it or puts it in their blog posts, but it’s in our social media policy not to use it online. I mean, someone just got fired for using it. So I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Why not err on the side of caution?

    That said, if I’m mad, you will hear me drop it in person. So I’m not completely opposed.

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:03 am #

      Damn. I thought I could stalk you until I taped you saying one tiny curse word and then expose to the entire internet your hypocrisy for saying “crap.”

      Thanks for ruining my dreams Gini! ;)

  11. Chessie March 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Time and place for all things. I believe most people know where and when to swear. Of course I’m not gonna get on line and cuss up a blue streak on a site I know kids are the primary users, (even though they cuss more than most adults). I will/do cuss on my own blog. I have cussed on twitter and facebook. Colorful? Who cares? I sometimes feel the use of fuck(ing) and such is demanded for the piece I’m writing. Sure, there are other ways to get my point across, but they aren’t always as effective, concise, or straightforward. Some times I want to anger the reader. Sometimes, the objective of the piece is to shock, sometimes it’s to vent, and sometimes I am just being me. Don’t like me? Don’t like my writing? Don’t come back! Closed minded/PC people rile me. Get a life…and get outta mine.

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:05 am #

      Yeah, I always like to remind people if they disagree with me they can go read another social media website, like Mashable, until their brains turn into mush.

  12. Gini Dietrich March 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    And actually, now that I really think about it, the reason it bothers me for me or my team to put something like that in writing is because I grew up Mormon where swearing is a sin (OK – that might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s not good). I live the “would my grandfather would to read this” mantra. He would DIE if he saw me tweet something like that so I don’t. It’s all about personal choice and I choose not to (and my staff has to live by that, too).

    • Maggie March 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

      I’ve always filtered myself online by thinking “would I want my boss or my mom to see this?” before I post something. But that only half works because my mom swears and is kind of … bawdy. On occasion.

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:06 am #

      I grew up in a family where I can remember my Grandma cursing. Different experiences lead to different perspectives.

  13. Mike Driehorst March 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Sure people are human and imperfect. However, other than trying to be funny/sarcastic, I think swearing has little place in professional or personal life. Granted, it is easier to watch what you type than what you say — and I’m guilty of letting my temper or frustration get the better of me at times.

    That said, it’s still not right.

    For the most part, I view someone who swears often, particularly in writing, as not knowing any other way to get his/her point across. Sure throwing a $hit here or a dam there can help emphasize a point, but it can also mean one is just too lazy to find other means to verbalize or type what you mean.

    For more of my $0.02 on swearing, see the link in my name to a post on a dads blog I contribute to.
    -Mike

    (For disclosure, I work on the Chrysler PR/communications team, and help manage the @Chrysler Twitter profile. Note, that’s not the Twitter handle where the infamous tweet came from last week.)

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:15 am #

      Mike – glad to have your input on this. I’m sure you’ve had one hell of a week. (Get it?Hell? I kill myself).

      I mostly agree. Outside of “F*&# You Friday,” I really don’t swear on this blog, except when I think it makes a great joke.

  14. Joey Strawn March 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    I’m not opposed to swearing online (unless you’re conversing on behalf of a business as stated above). I straddle the fence on this one because I have a family like Gini’s that would be devastated if I started writing like a sailor on leave, but I also pertain to the theory that you should be online who you are offline (and I curse offline sometimes).

    Definitely the Chrysler thing shouldn’t have happened and the person responsible should have been either reassigned or fired. I think what’s actually happening is a little bit of a scape goat move, but that’s for another post.

    As Danny said, it all depends on your audience and the context in which you’re cursing. Sometimes a well-placed curse word can drive a point further into someone’s mind where it wouldn’t have otherwise and sometimes just letting a little potty humor fly can just be fucking fun as hell.

    • Gini Dietrich March 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

      LOL, Joey! Someone on Twitter just said there are a few people who get away with it (@theredheadsaid and @thebloggess). Jenny Lawson is super, super funny and she swears like a sailor. But it’s part of her brand. That’s the difference. I just can’t have my team swearing because we represent so many brands.

      • Joey Strawn March 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

        Oh yeah, I’m totally with you on that one. I rarely curse when I blog and especially never when I’m working with a client. There are a ton of people who can get away with it, especially when it’s build into their persona, like you mentioned, but normally I apply the “better safe than sorry” mentality. : )

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:17 am #

      See, I’m an actor by training, so my family never can tell exactly when I am being serious, and they know The Anti-Social Media is only half-true.

      That said, I keep my language in check when I am not representing The Anti-Social Media.

  15. Elena Patrice March 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Oh this is ripe! I wrote a post on pretty much this precise issue. You may not like what it says; however these are my thoughts because I find this to be an issue. Here goes: http://bit.ly/dShPej Do You Kiss Your Customers With that Mouth?

    My child, my company, my brand are indeed far too precious and certainly would not benefit from me having a potty mouth, but it hasn’t always been that way. A close friend used to say I was the only one she knew who would listend to “How Great Thou Art” by Al Green while smoking a cigarette and cussing like a wild man (all in my “previous” life of course!) ;)

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:24 am #

      In my previous blogging life where I didn’t swear I wasn’t a “top social media blogger” and I didn’t work in a job I loved.

      That said, I know the difference between Jay Dolan the professional and Jay Dolan the crazy blogger.

  16. john Falchetto March 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    I agree with Gini, not because of I am worried my Grandpa might hear or see me, but out of love for the English language.
    As an expat i have lived in countries were most people spoke very bad English, which is normal I often spoke their language much worse.
    If we look at our conversations we are barely using more than 200 words on a daily basis. This makes us very simple, primitive English speakers. I have met people in third world countries who used some of the best English I have ever heard and would put us all to shame with their master of the English language.

    So why not us the F-bomb? Simply because in most cases it becomes an easy adjective or verb for almost any situation. From anger to desire, the F word has replaced many words in our vocabulary and in doing so has impoverished our language immensely.

    I never curse when I write, I see it as laziness. There are tons or words out there which can easily replace and really define what we are trying to say. I do curse when I am upset but I will not write it down.

    Saying this I am not against people who curse online (redheadwriting is one of my favorite blogs and it suits her brand to a tee) I just won’t do it myself.

    Regarding the comment about personal branding, I think there is a huge misconception that personal branding is about building some kind of fake persona. Swear to your heart content but don’t expect to be hired in most firms.

    My 2 cents. Great post Jay.

    • Jay March 16, 2011 at 12:25 am #

      Where does The Anti-Social Media end and Jay Dolan begin? That’s a question only other people can answer.

  17. Steve Farnsworth March 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    I rarely swear online, but for other reasons than thinking the F-Bomb is unseemly. The only reason I don’t swear online, for the most part, is I get tired of explaining why people’s reaction to “swear” words is irrational.

    There is just no such think as a bad or good word. We make words magic merely be saying that they are magic. There is absolute no other logical reason. People who say there is are cognitively disingenuous.

    When you ask folks who hold the nonrational opinion that some words are “bad” to explain what their logic is, their reasoning tends to break down completely or become circular reasoning. After a few probing questions as to how some vibrating air magically becomes untoward, their argument quickly devolves into, “it offensive to me,” or some kind of Appeal to Popularity logical fallacy, e.g., “A lot of other people agree with me.”

    The reality is those who find it offensive do so because they were taught that it was bad, and that “good” people don’t use those words. Now, they believe F-Bombs and the like to be offensive, too. It’s just not an intellectually honest argument, and just one more way for people judge others and find them wanting.

    BTW: the last time I checked, protection from being offended is not in the Constitution.

    So, if you want to believe words have magic, go ahead, but own your own shit. Don’t pretend that this is anything other than a word superstition.

    • Danny Brown March 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

      Best. Comment. Ever. :)

    • Jay March 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

      I think words have power, but not magic. Great Comment.

  18. Florian March 16, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    What’s the point of swearing on the internet? Write constructive criticism or move on.

  19. Björn Sennbrink March 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    In my opinion it is all very simple. Think twice before you tweet or whatever something if you have any worries what so ever whether or not your profanity will come back to haunt later on in your life, career or relationships (private and professional).

    ..and, protect your Tweets =)

  20. Stacey Herbert March 16, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Hey Jay, I have faced this question lately. To swear or not to swear? When I sit down to write a post, I tend to just write how I speak, and by default many ‘F’ and all other kinds of bombs get dropped . I try to clean it up in the edit, but tend to leave the objectionable language where I think it’s appropriate, because it’s authentic to me. I swear in real life,-alot. I know its not big or clever, but I do it. I kind of figured that if anyone was going to like what I have to say, or the way in which I said it, I could do worst then start out by being my authentic self. F words and all…I try not to swear when I tweet though..in 140 characters, it can’t really help but look vulgar.

  21. Kathy March 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    I can get somewhat distracted by swearing online or otherwise. I believe a point can be made without the use of profanities, however, each age group, race, etc., has their own way of expressing what is around them: their environment.

  22. Mina December 9, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    First of all you state that “people swear” – that’s a generality. Not all people swear.

    In “real life” where do you swear? i.e. do you have the forebearance to refrain in certain public places? Or do you just think its your God-given right to say anything at any time, regardless of who might be there? Your mother, your grandmother, your child? MY child?

    If you’re hanging out with a bunch of friends in your room, swear your head off, I don’t care. But if you’re at the beach, next to my towel where my child and I are trying to enjoy a beautiful day, I have a right to be upset if you’re talking like a walking toilet.

    Why is it that you have a right to spout filth but I DON’T have a right not to hear it?

    Places like facebook and twitter are public places. Now if you only friend people that you know don’t care what crap they have to “hear” and you set your security so that other’s don’t see you, go for it. Otherwise, you should have the intelligence to know that you’re speaking in a public place and the courtesy to understand that not everyone wants to hear (see) that kind of language.

    All of those arguements for swearing were the same ones used by smokers when bans first began to be passed about smoking in public areas. Why would you think that it’s ok to force someone else to have to breathe in your foul air?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. So Who Are You Anyway? « Social Media Fly On the Wall - March 15, 2011

    [...] I just read a post from The Anti-Social Media which asks “Is there a Place for Swearing in Social Media?“. The editorial is borne out of a couple of posts by Jay Dolan, about the recent s.n.a.f.u [...]