Swearing and Social Media

I’ve wanted to tackle the subject of social media and profanity for a bit now, especially when I read this post about the persuasive power of swearing. When you are communicating in an open platform such as Twitter and you are a representative of your company, when is it okay to swear…or is it ever?

As the post and a book that I will be reviewing next week (hint) both demonstrate is that there are indeed positives to using expletives from time to time.  For example, light swearing can show your passion for a particular subject and draws in your audience to pay attention. You might also find yourself in an argument and have to use stronger wording to express your point of view.

In person, I’m unfazed by people that swear up a storm.  However, when I see someone send out a tweet using a naughty word, my eyebrow raises a little. Not because I’m offended but I wonder if that person just turned off his/her audience. It seems that the more we tweet and update our Facebook statuses and develop deeper personal connections, the result is that we have the tendency to act more casual.

What sometimes gets lost is the fact we forget we are also representing our companies, brands, and businesses on these platforms. So although swearing might not anger your friends, it could annoy your broader audience.

Awhile back there was brouhaha over a webinar invite that went out entitled “WTF Tumblr.” Many PR pros were up in arms over the use of “WTF” and barked that it was completely unprofessional. Yet, others thought the name was eye-catching and a smart title. Even though “WTF” are only initials for a profane expression, it still turned quite a few people off.

So before you drop the F-bomb, here are a couple of things to ask yourself:

  • Who is my audience?

  • Is there another word that can demonstrate my point of view without risking backlash?

  • Does the situation warrant the use of profanity?

  • Is it worth the risk?

Readers, what do you think about the topic of social media and profanity?  Chime in below.


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  • Anonymous

    Fuck, Shit, Bitch, Asshole and Douchebag – all hold power in context and shouldn’t be over used. Two good examples of this are Julien Smith and Gary V.

    If your brand is young and edgy, there may be times that it works, but more likely than not should be avoided. Unless say you work for Vivid entertainment and the word fuck, well it can’t be avoided.

  • I agree that swearing can annoy your broader audience and should not be a practice adopted by anyone using social media platforms on behalf of their company. Swearing can signal passion yes, but the last time I checked it still wasn’t acceptable by the large majority of our society under any circumstances.

    As PR Pros, you need to always wear the hat of decency and respect your audience and demographic that you are targeting and engaging with. Yes, there are many many other words that can be used to demonstrate a point of view other than a swear word and IMHO, it is just tasteless and disrespectful to swear on social media channels. No situation ever warrants the use of profanity – use your head and respond passionately but ethically.

    Your mama didn’t raise no dang fool.

  • I love to curse!

  • Marie, Thanks for writing this post. I guess I fall into the “broader audience” category that you describe in this article- the kind that gets annoyed when posts include profanity. I feel that while swearing may be a “sign of passion”, it can also be considered rude and inappropriate, and in 99% of the circumstances, It isn’t worth losing the respect of your audience. Call me old fashioned, but is it really necessary? If you want to show that you are passionate about something, there are more creative ways to do so. Always tweet responsibly 🙂

  • I think it was last week Mashable used a header that started with “WTF and then blagh blagh”. I wasn’t offended so much as I thought it looked very adolescent. In fact it looked as if Mashable’s 13 year old sister got a hold of their Facebook page and typed in the status. It’s just not what I expect, I get the whole being edgy thing, but using terms like Squee and WTF reek of fake edginess.

  • Mallory898

    As a senior who is about to graduate, I do not think it is appropriate to swear over social media networks. I am also not phased by face-to-face swearing but when I see it online, I think, “Why would you ever do that?” I am looking for a job and I would never want a potential employer to see me swear over the internet. Like you said, you never know who your audience is. People need to start being more cautious of what they post online.

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  • I think the issue of profanity lies in your personal brand. It works for people if it’s done in an “tasteful” way, such as entertainment purposes.

    For my personal brand, I agree with you Mr. John Trader. As PR pros we need to wear the hat of decency. It seems contradictory to me to tarnish my image with profanity when we’re out there trying to gain respect for our clients. It just makes people look bad, in my opinion. It’s not who I am, so I won’t be represented via social media as someone with a potty mouth.

    I like the advice on limiting the amount of “blah, blah” used in social media. I guess it does lower your professionalism. I will be more aware of using “blah,” “ha,” etc in future posts/updates. Thanks!

  • Emily Yehia

    Swearing and social media is definitely a hot topic right now, especially after a curse word showed up in the Chrysler Twitter feed. Personally, I think it is very unprofessional to swear on a professional social media site. Even if you are trying to be funny, people may take it the wrong way and not understand your humor. If you are swearing to show that you are passionate about something, then people may think you are angry. I think it all depends on your company’s audience.

  • Karen Snir

    I think there is no real need to swear when you are representing a company or a brand. It is controversial so it may be better to avoid it .Most of the time, swearing gets attention because it is so unexpected. On the other hand, I can see how maybe using initials is not as bad and some people are going to like it if it shows passion.

  • Dhawley

    I believe that profanity should not be used at all if you are tweeting for a company. I just don’t think it sounds very business-like and turns me off. Although, I do agree with you that light swearing does show your passion for a certain subject, I just don’t think its needed.

  • Mhartresearch

    If you would not use it in the office face to face with someone or a group-dont use it on line. I have a daughter who swears like a truck driver and I have grand kids that are on there w/her. I gave my opinion and said it was not necessary and to take into consideration the entire family/friend audience she had. She has not spoken to me in 2 weeks, thats her opinion. It is social, it is your own page but people when you have an audience of 20 or 2,000 people do you want to risk friendships, business opportunitys or business relationships because typing cool words is so easy. We would never do it face to face……….thats what is happening with the social networking.

  • Stephen Hayes

    I know this is old, but it came up in discussion earlier. My opinion is if you have to cuss constantly all it does is make you look uneducated, and rude. If you have respect for others you don’t need those words, and in a professional environment it is NEVER acceptable