On Discourse


I got unfollowed on Twitter one night last week. This is not unusual. Twitter is like a giant, continuous conversation and people tune in and out to one another all the time. What was different about this incident was that the person sent me a tweet to let me know that she was unfollowing and why: she objected to me – or anyone – using the word “fuck”. The tweet she didn’t like  said “This headache can fuck off anytime now.”. I wasn’t cursing anyone out or directing to a person. I just used a swear word, for no good reason but also without malicious intent.

Anyway, after the woman unfollowed me, I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, which unleashed a veritable avalanche of f-bombs from people who are more amused than offended by my language.  But one reader asked why I was bothering to say anything at all. Which was the best question I was asked all week. Why did I even mention it when it really didn’t hurt my feelings or affect my self-image or behavior?

All I can come up with it that it was reflexive and done without much thought. I often tweet about things that I find peculiar, like the time I saw a woman who looked like Snooki but with Holly Madison’s hair or  when  I saw an article about underwear with slogans to promote abstinence printed on them.  The whole situation was just so odd that I shared it, mostly out of a sense of wonder. But, as my reader rightly pointed out, it came across as snotty of me. And it wasn’t really necessary.

When you think about it all, the internet and social media that puts you in contact with strangers  makes for a very strange sort of interaction. A woman who I don’t know, whose preferences I am not familiar with read a sentence I wrote with a word she found offensive, which is her right, and told me her feelings, which is also her right. But is telling me about them and attempting to penalize me for them really appropriate given that she had no reasonable expectation that I would know her feelings about profanity? Would she call Chris Rock and tell him she didn’t like his language? What about opinions that different from hers? Would she tweet Paul Krugman to tell him she only wanted to read supply-side economic arguments? If not, why did she scold me for tweeting the f-word?

If you think of Twitter as a public space, you have to accept that you will be exposed to things that aren’t to your taste by going there because it’s impossible to control the behavior of strangers. If this woman had been sitting next to me in a bar and had overheard me say the same thing, would she have walked over to me, scolded me for my vocabulary and made a point of getting out of earshot of me? Probably not. And if she had, no one would have thought it strange of me to comment on the situation with others. The woman was in the bar voluntarily and, unless it was a special No Cussing Allowed bar, she should have be prepared to hear cussing in that space and to try and police my behavior would have been absurd of her.

Now, if we change the venue to a school party populated by children and parents and I dropped an f-bomb and she heard it, then she would have been well within the bounds of normal behavior to correct me because the venue and audience were not appropriate for that kind of language. In that case, her friends would not have been considered odd for commenting about the woman with the foul language around the kids.

So the question becomes, which type of space is Twitter? Is it for adults or an all-ages audience? What are the expectations of behavior in this type of public square? Who needs to modify their expectations and behavior? Was it out of line for her to scold me? Was it out of line for me to remark on it? Should I have apologized for unknowingly and unintendedly offending her sensibilities? Should I have let her action pass unremarked? Should I be expected to modify my language in case someone doesn’t like it? Should she be expected to modify her expectations of how others will behave within her hearing?

I don’t have any good answers to any of these questions. They’re all just the ponderables that come from participating in quasi-anonymous public discourse. Over the time I’ve been blogging I’ve made and changed a number of rules for myself based on my consideration of how my words might affect others. I don’t joke about committing acts of violence, not even to use phases like “throat punch” or other hyperbolic expressions of rage. I try to limit my comments to people’s behavior rather than their character. I try not to belittle those who have different opinions than I do. I don’t know how well I succeed at any of that but I try. Do I also need to curb my swearing because some people don’t like it? No. I don’t. And I won’t. Just like I won’t stop talking about consumer-based economic growth, how much I’m looking forward to a new season of “Millionaire Matchmaker”, and how frustrated I get with Metro. This is who I am. This is how I speak. I do not pretend to appeal to everyone. I respect you right to click away if you don’t like what I’ve said. But you need to respect my right to say it, f-bombs and all. And I need to respect that not everyone likes it and I shouldn’t make fun of them.

What do you all think? Who needs to adjust in this social media world of ours?

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13 comments for “On Discourse

  1. April 25, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Obviously this lady hasn’t been following you long or read anything you have said. Also twitter is how you make it. It’s my little cesspool and that’s how I like it. I’ve met the most intelligent, warped people from all over the world on it. And i wouldn’t change a thing.

  2. April 25, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I love this. You’re spot on. Also, a No Cussing Allowed bar would go under in no fucking time. Oops, sorry. Wasn’t supposed to say that!

  3. April 25, 2011 at 8:36 am

    I was once a featured blogger on a website and the site owner felt it necessary to give a disclaimer to her readers before featuring me. And I hardly ever drop f-bombs on the blog. Once in a while there’s a “damn” or a “bat shit crazy”….some people are just super uptight.

    My thoughts? If they don’t like it? Don’t follow. I’ll live. In fact, I probably won’t even notice if you drop off my followers list. If you’re that easily offended, you’re probably not someone I talk to regularly anyway.

  4. April 25, 2011 at 9:43 am

    fuck that noise.

  5. April 25, 2011 at 10:04 am

    I don’t think you’ve ever stated you would not swear on this site (and I’m guessing you haven’t on twitter–I stopped using the site about a year ago). I think social media/networking works the same as real life, except because of anonymity on the web, people are bolder and meaner than in real life. I think you got it spot on when you said the woman would never call you out for swearing if she overheard you at the bar. On the web, people feel free to let all their opinions out, good, bad, profound, or pointless. They perceive no real life consequences for their statements, so they do not engage the filter they have been developing since childhood for personal interactions. In some ways, that is wonderful. In other ways, that is very bad. I can go on and on about the pluses and minuses, but I won’t.

    I think you are right in your post–people have to learn their own rules, just like in real life. Perhaps the woman who called you out would have done so in real life as well. We’ve all met those people too.

    Great discussion started here.

  6. April 25, 2011 at 10:06 am

    My theory: We women are “nice” to people in real life. Too nice. We don’t say what we feel to that moron in our mom’s group. We silently seethe when that bitch on the cell phone cuts us off. We bite our tongue and stay “nice”.

    Then we come home and take it out on anonymous internet Moms because we can be nameless, faceless, and forget our catty remarks 2 minutes after we type them. There’s a deep, deep well of nasty in the mom blog world (refuse to use the word “community”) because I think that’s the only place a lot of women CAN be nasty.

    Doesn’t excuse it, but it helps me understand some of the shit that goes down on Twitter.

  7. April 25, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I like your way of thinking. 🙂

  8. April 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I would have done the SAME as you. Remarked on Twitter because “Balls, why did she have to call OUT why she unfollowed you?” Why would you care? Twitter is for warped little nutballs and I like it that way for SURE. 😉

  9. Shawna
    April 25, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    First of all I completely enjoyed your email sorry for not responding back, things have bee crazy here. However you are entirely right bringing to light social interactions via bar and applying them to twitter bx essentially it is rather similar. I never thought she was in the right… She was completely wrong. What I do find interesting is @Jaci’s comment: how mean the mom world can be. Over the past few years I have noticed a gross amount of women in the mom world bullying & being mean. We need to pull together not rip the other apart. But thats a different issue all together. LOL.
    You cuss on lady! If she is that offended then she can live in her own little bubble unexposed to reality. Bx cussing is everywhere. She needs be more appropriate about her preferences. But here we go again in circles on this great discussion, in the end she is reading none of this And thus unaffected by any lesson she could have learned as well.

  10. Amy
    April 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Once again you have hit the nail on the head. She obviously has not been following you for long because we all know you have a potty mouth and you are not afraid to express it. You cuss for me.
    Social media can be ugly and sometimes you have to take the proper speech with the cussing. It is the age we live in. I mean does she turn the channel when the word bitch is used cuz it is used alot in tv but 10 years ago it would have brought on a beep and a gasp to the viewing audience. Today there is a spot of ugliness in vocabulary etc but that is what makes us modern.
    Anyways looking forward to the Trump letter.HEHE

  11. April 25, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I agree with Jaci. Sometimes people have to lash out and anonymous people on the Internet are easy target!

    I don’t think it odd at all that you mentioned it on twitter. Honestly, I think of twitter as an extension of my internal dialogue and is open to anything.

    Xo susie

  12. April 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I put up with a lot more on twitter than I would in real life. If you don’t like what you read, you just scroll past – no harm, no foul. I follow a lot of people that I doubt I would be able to stand in real life, but occasionally have something amusing or interesting to say on twitter, so I keep them in my stream and ignore them about 75% of the time. That works for me.

  13. April 27, 2011 at 12:47 am

    I always think the folk who feel the need to tell you why they are unfollowing you as a little bit small minded.
    Like it’s been mentioned, twitter is an ongoing conversation that we all flit in and out of, it’s the nature of the beast. I follow folk I think might be interesting/amusing, if I no longer find them so, then I unfollow. I don’t make a song and dance about it. and I naturally assume that anyone who follows me would do the same.
    I find it odd that they are people who follow me who I have -never- chatted with, but then I guess there are people I follow who I have never chatted to either, so *shrug* I guess it all comes out in the wash?
    I decided long ago that I wasn’t hanging out on twitter to gain 100’s or 1000’s of followers (and actually learnt this reasonably early on from comments made by others who had been around twitter longer than I), that I am there for the cool people I can meet and chat with, while still watching my kids at home! ;O)
    I think that it’s an easier platform to make friends, or unmake friends, you don’t have the fuss or process that exists in real life, or even facebook.
    For that reason, I stay and hang out on twitter, Watching folk I find amusing and unfollowing folk who for whatever reason I don’t want their input in my life any longer.
    You’re not one of those. You, I like. Swear words like fuck and all :OD

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