If an alien species tried to assess human social interaction based solely on what we say to and about each other on Twitter, they'd think we were a pretty foul-mouthed, hostile bunch. And they'd likely be inclined to believe that women on Twitter, with their fondness for "bitch" and "slut" when talking to other women, were either poisonous hate-fountains or eternally pledging the same shouty sorority.
New research from the Department Of Things Most People Already Suspected To Be True (not a real thing) and Wright State University in Ohio (real) found that swearing is significantly more common in twitspeech than in IRL speech. In fact, sentences on Twitter were more than twice as likely to contain a swear word than sentences used IRL; one out of ever 13 tweets contains a "rude" word, according to The Guardian.
Unsurprisingly, the most common swear deployed in Twitter-land was FUCK, the Class President of swears (present in 34.7% of sweary tweets), followed by "SHIT" and "ASS," the prom king and queen of swears (present in 15% and 14.5% of swear-containing tweets), and then BITCH, voted "Best Dressed" of the swears, in 10.3% of cases. Bringing up the rear (or, as they'd say on Twitter, "ass") of the swear pack were "hell," "whore," "dick," "piss," and "pussy," which sounds like a solid basketball team starting lineup. Dick is obviously the point guard.
But perhaps more interesting than the obvious — that internet is basically to real life interaction what a bouncy castle is to real life walking — is the way that those swear words were deployed, who was using them, and how they were using them. Researchers found that the group most likely to use gendered anti-female insults weren't the angry fedora-doffing manchildren trying to bully ladies off the internet. They're women talking to other women.
Does this mean ladies be catfighting? Not necessarily. Plenty of women use "bitch" and "slut" as a reclaimed term of endearment for female friends and cohorts. And plenty of men sling insults and threats at women on Twitter without sticking to the old reliable swears. But maybe — just maybe — some of the hostility experienced by women on the web comes from women who, for one reason or another, just don't like women.
Or maybe Twitter serves as a safe space for web denizens to get their swear word ya-ya's out in a place that seems judgement and consequence-free. Hell if I'd be the one to fucking know for sure.
Image via Shutterstock