While Twitter’s 140 characters may not seem like much, according to a team of researchers at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, that’s more than enough space to let your potty mouth free. After a survey of more than fifty million tweets, the WSU team, made up of two PhD researchers and two PhD students, concluded that one of every thirteen tweets contains profanity. Twitter’s favorite swear word is the f-bomb, which accounted for almost 35% of foul language spotted in the sample group.
According to Fast Company’s article about the study, this online rate of vulgarity doesn’t match how we speak in day-to-day life. Fast Company reports, “Other studies have found that 0.5 to 0.7% of words we say in the physical world are curses—on Twitter, the researchers found the rate to be 1.15%.” The researchers attribute this to the veil of distance and potential anonymity that the Internet provides, since in social media we don’t have to look one another in the eye before mouthing off.
Reading about the survey left me with more questions. Is this anomaly specific only to Twitter or is Facebook lit up with expletives too? How would we survey visual mediums, such as Instagram or Vine, to determine the rate of cursing? Does an increase in profanity on Twitter somehow make the medium less valuable to people and brands alike? Future studies might answer some of these questions, while also taking into account newer networks in the ever-changing social landscape.
But after reading Fast Company’s wrap-up, one question kept nagging at me: Is swearing in everyday life really so rare? Perhaps I’m the exception, but I swear less in online forums (like Twitter) than I do in my terrestrial life. Posting online allows a few precious extra seconds to self-edit—precious seconds I use to full advantage to not channel my inner vulgar vixen in my tweets. That’s not to say I never swear online (absolutely I do), but I would guess that one in every thirteen of my spoken sentences is more likely to contain foul language than the same ratio of my personal tweets. Maybe the people referenced in those other studies are lying about their language choices in the physical world. Or they’re nuns.
To see the full gamut of curse words that made the survey see the study’s Wiki.
—by Leah Charney
Leah Charney is sassy yet classy and is most excited by the things she can't stop writing about, like food, music, and people. She directs operations for the WideFoc.us team, which is just a fancy way of saying she is chief cat herder.