fuck.jpgWhen it comes to social media and your career, you should curse at your own risk.

I recently got some interesting statistics on profanity and social networking sites. Turns out 47 percent of Facebook users have cursed on their walls, according to social media tracking company Reppler.

I wasn’t totally surprised having read a lot of cussing on Facebook and Twitter, and maybe having dropped an “F” bomb or two.

The Reppler data also found:

* 80% of our users who have profanity on their Facebook Wall have at least one post/comment with profanity from a friend.
* 56% of the posts/comments with profanity on a user’s Facebook Wall come from friends.
* Users are twice as likely to use profanity in a post on their Facebook Wall, versus a comment. Whereas friends are twice as likely to use profanity in a comment on a user’s Facebook Wall, versus a post.
* The most common profane word is derivations of the “f-word”. The second most common profane word is derivations of the word “sh*t”. ”B*tch” is a distant third.

And guess who curses the most?

“Males under the age of 30 had a somewhat higher level of profanity over 55 percent,” said Vlad Gorelik, founder of Reppler.

Now, I’m not going to get on my high horse and wag my finger at this young men, or anyone else who chooses to use foul language in social media, but it’s good to know possible ramifications for your actions. Yes, you can legally be fired, demoted, or just treated badly at work because your manager comes across your expletive rants online. You may be protected if you’re a government workers, or have a union contract, but even in these cases, most judges get why employers have no-cursing policies.

And if you think your boss isn’t watching, think again.

A poll by the Society for Human Resource Management to be released later this week found that “39 percent of surveyed employers monitor the social media activities of employees while they are using company-owned computers or handheld devices,” said Jennifer Hughes, a spokeswoman for the group. And, she added, “40 percent of organizations said they had social media policies. Of those organizations with social media policies, 33 percent indicated they had taken disciplinary action against employees who violated their policy in the last 12 months.”

But all this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t swear.

There is evidence that cursing may relieve stress and even foster camaraderie among co-workers.

“I think truck-driving speak has invaded modern language and won’t go away,” said trend-spotting guru Marian Salzman, who’s been credited with coining the word “metrosexual.” The cyber age, she added, has accelerated this foul-language phenomenon. “WTF will be the single most common response.”

Dan McGinn, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, said sometimes cursing could be well placed and effectively show a candid side of a CEO or other leader. “I’m not advocating for swearing, but it can lead to intimacy and authenticity,” said McGinn, who recently wrote an article on the topic titled “Should Leaders Ever Swear?”

But don’t take this as a green light to send profane text messages to your underlings, your boss or a hiring manager any time soon.

Even though cursing has become pervasive on the Internet and in many other social forums, it’s still considered unacceptable in many work situations.

Late last year, a sugar plum fairy from Missouri got canned from her job for cussing. This from USA Today:

Laura Coppinger worked with Christmas Traditions for six years, and spent five of them as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She says she even spent some of her own money to make improvements to the wings on her costume.

“I made her larger than life,” Coppinger said of her Sugar Plum Fairy character. “And each year she kinda got bigger and bigger.”

But this year, Coppinger won’t get a chance to spread Christmas cheer.

The Sugar Plum Fairy has been let go, after cursing during a drug test for the job.

When she accidentally flushed the toilet, she said she uttered the offending term that led to her termination.

“Out of pure frustration with myself, I said a curse word,” Coppinger said. But before she could retake the test, she was told not to bother because she had violated the Christmas Traditions Code of Conduct, which says “Christmas characters don’t know naughty words.”


This case seems extreme, and I really feel for the fairy, but cursing can be a dicey thing and sometimes you have to think twice before you act out of frustration and write or say something only a sailor could get away with.

“When someone says, ‘I’m sorry, we filled the position,’ you shouldn’t say, ‘That sucks’ or ‘WTF,’” said Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of “Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?”

While such language is usually frowned upon, there can be a double standard when it comes to top executives.

“Swearing is accepted at high levels within an organization,” said Laurie Ruettimann, director of social media for The Starr Conspiracy. “Among the rank and file? The riffraff? The hoi polloi? It’s frowned upon.”

Well there’s one positive. Social networking may be bringing a bit more equity into the world, at least if your bosses don’t see it.

Do you curse on Facebook, or anywhere else?

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