Saturday, 6 July 2013

Social Media and Profanity - Does anyone give a f*ck anymore?

Warning: This post contains language that some readers may find offensive. Reader discretion is advised.
I've been meaning to write a post about social media and profanity for quite some time? Why has it taken me this long? To be honest, it's taken me a while to figure out what my views on the topic actually are. Even as I type here I'm not quite sure, but hopefully by the end I will have it figured out.

When it comes to dropping f-bombs and uttering other expletives online, I'm of two very different minds. On the one hand I'm very much a product of my generation in my views on freedom of speech. As a nineties kid who came of age on a diet of expletive-laden grunge rock, punk poets like Henry Rollins and potty-mouthed shock-masters like Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor and Ministry's Al Jourgensen, swearing is in my DNA and I still find myself swerving into sailor talk when I'm either angry or past the three-pint mark at the pub. I can't help it. Nor do I particularly want to. It's in my bones, and when interjected at the right time, a well-placed "fuck" or even a "What the fucking fuck?" does wonders for getting a point across.

On the other hand, I still contend that there's a place for f-bombs and a place for cleaner, classier language and I tend to think that the 21st century commons that is social media is the latter. But even as I type these words I can easily recount expletive-laden Facebook posts with my name next to them. That said, I've always been discriminating in my use of profanity online. I will occasionally drop a four-letter word on Facebook, but I have never once done so on Twitter, and suffice it to say never on LinkedIn. For me it's a matter of business versus private life, and as Twitter very much overlaps the two worlds, I err on the side of business.

But what about this blog? Those of you inclined to comb through my back posts for colourful language (i.e. those with a lot more time on their hands than I have) will find the odd one here and there, but they're certainly the exception rather than the rule. But I don't eschew this vocabulary completely, and unlike in the title of this post, I don't asterisk it. If you're going to use the word "fuck" in a post, there's no point in pretending you're not using it. Moreover, the word "shit" has become so mainstream anymore that using an asterisk in the place of the 'i' just looks silly. Most other profanity I could use in this blog is either directly pertinent to sex (which isn't really the focus of this blog), or misogynistic (which I hope never to be), or within the context of a quote, which should be self-evident - and therefore totally inocuous.
Like an animal? Really, Trent? Ahhh... the nineties!
Then there's the issue of abbreviated profanity. While it's safe to say that most of us would refrain from responding to an amusing cat video posted on Facebook with "I laughed my fucking ass off watching that!" but wouldn't think twice about tapping out the abbreviation LMFAO, which means exactly the same thing. Likewise, most of us avoid telling people to "Shut the fuck up" in any sort of public domain, but still wield the STFU abbreviation with reckless abandon. And while I find myself employing an at-the-ready arsenal of WTFs and LMFAOs on Facebook, part of me can't help but feel that this drains the colour from our more colourful epithets. Would the likes of George Carlin or Margaret Cho stoop so low as to reduce their colourful language to cute little abbreviations? I cheapens it for the real artists, IMHO.

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, columnist Ann Brenoff laments the mainstreaming of the f-word. As she eloquently puts it, "Saying "fuck" used to be like eating caviar -- a rare experience indulged in so infrequently that the occasion itself became memorable. Instead, "fuck" has become just another word, as in "Can you please change the fucking lightbulb?"" I couldn't agree more. I like my profanity, but I also like it to have an impact, and if you're wielding it all the fucking time, these wonderful words lose any sting they ever had. Furthermore, I would like to see an overall reduction in the faux-fanity represented by the aforementioned popular SM abbreviations. If you're going to swear, just swear. If not, you have access to a rich and wonderful language full of great words that can get the point across just as well as an WTF.

As for whether or not to use expletives in a public forum like a blog, it's entirely a matter of personal taste. It's about knowing yourself and your own comfort zone, with the knowledge that whatever you put out there becomes part of your brand persona. As Randy Brososky, Edmonton-based marketing a communications guru and founder of the Group of Rogues put it when I asked him, "If you want the world to know you're willing to swear in totally mixed company, then it can definitely work, but it will become a very noticeable, indelible part of your personal brand. Make the choice and be okay with it, 'cus it sticks. If you're not okay with that, or people you are aiming to connect with won't be okay with it, then steer the *%#¥ clear."

We live in a complicated era, where boundaries between business and personal lives have become more blurred than ever, and where any and all content we create and commit to the public sphere contributes to shaping our personal brands. This means we need to draw our own lines. For me that line exists somewhere between Facebook and Twitter, with my airport and freelance work (i.e. anything I get paid to do) unquestionably on the 'business' side, and Brush Talk straddling somewhere in between. This is where I get to test the water, give the gods of communication a little jostle, and drop the occasional f-bomb - but only occasionally enough for it to retain its sting. That aside, I prefer to stick to classy language.

Where is your line in the sand vis-à-vis profanity and social media? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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  2. I can clearly see your point, Ben. What is good about social media sites is that they give us freedom. Just imagine, you can say everything to the world, and ‘WE’ can hear you. However, in my opinion, the use of profanity must be lessened. In fact, frequent usage of this decreases one’s self-worth in the online community. It’s not like those words should be banned. Hey, we all say it right? However, they should be said in the right place and circumstance. Anyway, I like how you're so direct with your opinions. It’s very enlightening and not at all pretentious.

    David Butler

    1. Thanks for your thoughts David. I tend to agree with you on profanity being overused in the digital sphere. I myself try to avoid it, and this post aside, you can probably count on one hand all the curse words I've used on this blog. That said, I think they can be extremely effective at getting a point across and there's definitely a time and a place for them. But as I point out in this post their effectiveness is contingent on their not being overused. Otherwise what's the ****ing point?

      Thanks for reading!

  3. I do like the cartoon at the top, the word "phylloxera" does sound a lot stronger and more abrasive than "pale yellow sap-sucking insect", though the longer phrase would make a great insult too. I agree it is odd how we may be unwilling to use the f-word but will easily imply it. I believe I'd be constitutionally unable to use the f-word in any context, but on many occasions when people have come to me with obvious technical problems I've replied with RTFM. Howard

  4. While we have freedom of speech and freedom to express our thoughts online, it’s still important to be cautious of using cuss words on our social media profiles. It can be the cause of public misunderstanding or distrust. I’m sure your post won’t stop others from swearing on their pages, but it should be a warning to those who are using their social media accounts for marketing their products. Digital sphere can be quite tricky, and it’s important to think before you click your posts.

    Eloise Pittman @ Viper Online

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  9. People who use profanity on social media don't understand life.

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