Something that’s been on my mind recently is the issue of swearing on twitter. This hasn’t been prompted by anything in particular, and it’s purely relating to my own tweets. I’m not criticising anyone else for swearing (or not!), just trying to work out where I stand on it.
Now, I swear. A lot. And I don’t have a problem with other people swearing. I’m not going to go into why I think swearing has a place in the language – others have done that far more eloquently than I could hope to – but whether it has a place on my twitter stream.
The thing is, I’ve always lived by the rule that you don’t swear in professional situations, or in front of clients. Spilled a cup of tea over a huge stack of newspapers? Oh sugar. Getting torrents of abuse from punters? Smile, grit your teeth, and call them sir. I’d never swear while working a reference desk, or at an interview. I wouldn’t swear on a conference stand, or in a work-related blog post (in general, yeah? Appreciate that this post might be a little hard to write otherwise! So, if you haven’t already guessed, there will be swearing in this post. Look away now if you’re of a nervous disposition.)
But what about twitter? Is it a professional milieu? Sure, I have a lot of professional contacts on twitter, but we don’t just talk about work all the time. Sure, my twitter contacts may one day be interviewing me for a job, or reviewing my papers, but will it really matter then that I once called someone a wanker on twitter? Will they remember? Will they care?
It really does come down to where I feel my twitter circle fits in the professional/personal scale. Many of my tweets are personal, or not directly professionally relevant; but I know that when I do have something of professional interest to say, then I have an audience who will be interested and engaged. So how do I deal with this mix?
I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, twitter is like after-conference drinks in the pub. For an even more concrete example, twitter is like drinks in the Head of Steam after Mash oop North (possibly because I met a lot of tweeps for the first time there). It’s a friendly, collegial atmosphere, where you know that you can appreciate each other’s professional interests, but are also more relaxed, talking about telly and books and music and making jokes. It’s an atmosphere where a bit of judicious swearing is perfectly in order.
And so, I have decided, for my twitter. Don’t worry that my stream is going to become NSFW, with random expletives jammed into every post. This is, after all, judicious swearing – and I do have to remember that other people’s twitter milieus might not be the same as mine. They may feel that it is a professional only area, and that swearing is inappropriate. But what sort of swearing? I doubt anyone would be offended by the occasional ‘sod it’ or ‘bloody’. ‘Bugger’ is probably ok, and I think I could get away with ‘shit’. ‘Bollocks’ is probably moving closer to the wire. And as for the f and c words? Well, as you can see, I’ve wimped out of using them here, in a post about swearing, where I’ve warned people there will be swearing. So probably not, no. (why am I so worried about it? It’s not like no-one’s ever said ‘fuck’ on the internet. oh, there we go!)
I realise that this might seem like a trivial post – or an excuse to chuck swearwords around on my blog – but it has actually made me think quite carefully about what being a professional entails. I’d always had this vague sense that being professional meant being on your best behaviour at all times – until you’d locked the door and taken your shoes off, and then you could do what the hell you liked. Problem is, a lot of our professional interaction now is taking place behind that locked door, and I can tell you for a fact I’m not wearing any shoes right now.
I can also tell you that the professionals I respect most are those who let their human side show. Those people who are efficient, informative, and amusing. Who can get the job done and still have time for a natter. Who are confident enough in themselves to find the balance between formality and informality. People who are ‘always on’ I find intimidating. Little touches of the personal help people to relate to you, feel more comfortable with you, and (I believe) make for better working relationships.
So, that interviewer who remembers me swearing on twitter. Will it hinder my chances? Could it even help? Or would it simply be of no importance? We are adults, communicating with each other by the tools commonly used in society, and swearing is one of those tools. So why am I agonising about it? I think it’s about time I bloody well shut up 😉