Obscene Language Isn’t The Answer

Full disclosure: This is not an article on censorship; it’s about being the best writer you can be without resorting to vulgar writing, just so you can snag viewers.

If you are reading this, chances are you have been an online writer for a while now. You probably have encountered it: the attempt to tease vulgarity in order to increase the number of eyes that browse your page, or read your blog.

Recently, our agency, Iris Content, had an issue with one of our contracted writers who chose to use obscene language in order to convey a message. Without delving into further details, the bottom line was: they thought the topic would allow them to use any kind of language they wanted. The result? A gratuitous amount of obscene language added on a string in a text that was aimed at adult audiences (for a reputable men’s magazine). The excuse they offered? I wanted to write something that audiences would understand.(this made us realize the writer was not even understanding how serious their mistake was). The consequence? Immediate termination for that writer.

This whole episode made me ask myself a few questions:

  1. What does it take to “go viral” online today?

  2. Where does common decency start and where does it end, with online content?

  3. Is self-censorship really something today’s online writers should use?

  4. Does this mean you are a prude, if you have your own decency rules when it comes to your writing job?

  5. Last but not least: is there really a public for indencent content today? (beyond the obvious industry-specific pornographic content, that is).

  6. I don’t think it actually takes a great deal to go viral today. All you need is a willing public, the seed of controversy and the desire to create a bit of scandal on a subject matter.

  7. Common decency is in the heart of the writer. You cannot learn this anywhere. This is what you are born with: a sense of what you can comfortably say with your words, and what you cannot. Yes, one might argue, good manners are taught, just as decency should be. I think that there is more than manners involved here, and that “something”, you are only born with it….

  8. People are afraid of the term “censorship” because it mentally leads them to places where freedom of expression is under attack. Just imagine, though: where would we all be if we didn’t impose our own rules and our own ethics on our work?

  9. No, you are not a prude. You are a reliable, solid writer. Go with your guts, write what you feel, but always stay true to a set of values.

  10. I think the real public, the one you are aiming to reach with your content knows how to make the difference between quality and non-value. So, no, I don’t think there is a real public (at least not one you may want to write for) for indecent and crude content today.

Should You Use Obscenity to Draw In Readership?

There are arguments concerning the freedom of expression, or that obscenity is subjective, or like beauty, is in the eyes of the Beholder.

There are blogs that are extremely successful with a not-safe-for-work format. However, much like Pandora’s Box, once you open that,you can never really close it again, unless you want to start completely from scratch.

Before you cross that threshold, you need to assess it for yourself if it’s worth cursing on your site or depicting lewd scenes. Are the short-term viewers you may get from being edgy and dropping four-lettered words, worth your reputation as an online writer?

What You Expose Yourself to By Using Profanity

In terms of writing tips, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but by using obscenity or vulgarity, your writing becomes automatically a very unfriendly “something else.”  A magnet for a different type of audience.

A single piece you have written like this can permeate past what you’ve written as well. If you have a following that comments frequently on your blog, then by opening that door to obscenity, you’re opening it for your followers to become toxic in the comment section.

You’re also limiting the scope of your audience. While it’s becoming increasingly more evident that children are exposed to more mature content every year, if their parents found out that your sites promote vulgarity, there is a good chance that you just lost a reader, or two… or more.

This also applies to older generations. While they are of course old enough to partake in mature content, many are no longer enticed to indulge obscenity for obscenity’s sake.

These generations are also more apt to adhere to religious beliefs. Since this isn’t an article concerning writing tips for religious viewpoints, I’ll be brief. Most, religious readers will be of a conservative mindset, and obscene content will just be a deal-breaker.

Let’s Face It: Using Obscenity Is No Longer Unique

It’s no longer a unique method to find your voice. Back in the day, it may have been scandalous to write publicly in a profane manner, which in turn would have garnered attention.

However, with artists like Damien Hurst or directors like Lars Von Trier, unless you’re ready to turn it up to eleven, then you’re not going to get the attention that you would’ve hoped. Not everyone can be Henry Miller….

If you’ve grown up in an English-speaking country, there is a good chance that you’ve heard the majority of swear words and some convoluted story of the birds and the bees by the end of your first day in first grade.

The uniqueness has generally faded by the time they’ve reached your blog. Unless your writing is solely obscene, most likely the audience you’re trying to attract has searched for it somewhere else.

Using Obscenity Narrows You Demographic

If you have a site dedicated to baking and confectionery, and you decide to cross the line into obscene content, well it’s easy to figure out that you’ve narrowed your target market significantly.

While you may have attracted anyone that had an oven, flour, sugar, eggs, and yeast, well now they need all of that and want to enjoy some F-bombs while they wait for their cake to rise.

Regardless if your blog hosts a variety of topics, you need to decide if introducing obscene content will benefit you in anyway.

Even if you normally swear like a sailor when you speak casually every day, if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re considering introducing vulgar language, most likely you’ve not been writing that way.

Just like everything, writing in a new style takes practice, and at first you may be clunky or heavy-handed. And your readers will sense this as being forced. Even if your audience is okay with the sudden tone shift, the may not appreciate the drop in quality of writing.

Obscenity Will Affect Your SEO

While Google has stated that they don’t censor search results, profanity and obscenity does get special treatment. So one of the writing tips that you may not have considered is how obscenity and profanity will affect your SEO.

If your writing is heavily laden with profanity, then your sights visibility will be affected by Google’s SafeSearch and AdSense. Both of these are products of Google, and while the tech giant is ok to promote third-party content, when it comes to their own image, they eschew from the stuff.

In terms of AdSense, many advertising agencies that aren’t directly in the adult content business will pull out from their deals if their products are advertised on profane sites.

At the end of the day, you will find that writing in a profane manner, you have crossed a line that you shouldn’t have. What is beyond that line? Everyone should draw their own conclusions on that. I will just conclude with one thought here: “Before you write something, think how you would feel if someone said it to you.”