Recently I received an email from an interesting person that I followed on twitter. Please notice that I didn’t put ironic quotes around the word interesting, in the previous sentence. He genuinely seemed like a smart, interesting fellow. I’m posting our conversation to placate the scores of internet denizens clamoring to know my official position on internet profanity. Here’s his anonymized note, followed by my response.
I appreciate our connection on Twitter (and Google+), but I may need to sever the connection. I teach elem school kids as part of my day job. I teach them about Twitter and Google+. People who are include profanity, I need to unfollow them.
I don’t know why I need to tell this to dozens of people each week. Do people not realize that when they communicate online their message gets seen far beyond what they can imagine? Do we want to live in a world littered with profanity all over the place?
(Signed, Hates-cursing-on-the-internet Goldstein),
“Wisdom begins with wonder.” – Socrates
“Learning happens thru gentleness.”
I crafted the following, gentle response:
Hello (Would-like-to-wash-my-mouth-out-with-soap Smith) :)
I don’t actually remember cursing on my twitter or google+ stream lately. In fairness though, I absolutely would if I felt it even mildly appropriate. Are you referring to the tagline of my site, falldeaf.com, perhaps?
I’ll try to be understanding if you’re not interested in staying friends over the cursing issue but I thought you should be aware of a few things first. Cursing has been around for a very, very long time. It’s not new phenomenon and in fact, part of our brain is hardwired for cursing! It’s likely that cursing evolved in us over time for some purpose. Even chimpanzee’s, our genetic cousins exhibit psychologically similar behavior to cursing. Did you know that if you’re in pain, cursing will make you feel better? If religion is your basis for you not liking to see curse words, were you aware that the bible uses strong language on occasion? Perhaps your distaste for profanity is not biblical or scientific; maybe as a teacher (english?) you just feel it to be bad form. If so, you might be surprised to know that Shakespeare’s plays were filled with profane language (though most of it out of modern use).
(source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profanity )
I’ve probably already convinced you that cursing is a healthy and necessary part of the human condition but on the extremely unlikely possibility that I haven’t, consider this, removing all cursing from the internet would not be a good thing, even if it were possible. The internet is a wonderful, strange, sometimes scary, sometimes amazing place that is filled with many things that are beneficial to you and others that you may find offensive. This diversity is part of the internet’s charm! (Except for Justin Beiber music videos, those are too depraved even for the internet.)
Having said all that, I certainly understand not wanting your kindergartners to see cursing. They’re not ready for it yet and should be properly trained over time after they’re of age, of course. However, I think I can offer you a few solutions to that problem:
- Keep separate accounts for your everyday *adult* social life and for teaching your class about social media.
- There are plugins and extensions that will parse everything your browser downloads on the fly and remove the profanity for you.
- firefox – https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/profoundcensor/
- chrome – http://code.google.com/p/simpleprofanityfilter/
- internet explorer – (If you’re teaching impressionable, young kids to use internet explorer I’ve got a huge beef with you.)
You seem like a really nice and interesting guy and I hope we’ll be able to continue our communication though social media but in regards to removing profanity from the internet, let alone the world, good fucking luck.
[I corrected some of my spelling, grammar and logic errors that were emailed unnoticed before posting it here. So I'll seem slightly less stupid here than in the original response.]