Should you worry about grammar mistakes on social media?

Posted on 3 October 2014 by Lucy Gregory

Should you worry about grammar mistakes on social media?

‘Yes!’, cry the pedants.
 
‘No!’, yell the anarchists.
 
‘It depends’, is what I guess you’re saying to yourself right now.
 
You probably distinguish between personal social media (where you forgive the odd spelling mistake and typo) and business social media (where you do not). Or do you? Really? Three events this week have shaken my confidence in mankind’s charitable nature on this subject.
 
The first event was a classic case of Facebook hacking, which popped up on my feed. The hackee was more concerned about poor grammar in the post than the fact her sister had hacked Facebook in the first place. On discovering the hack, she hurriedly posted, ‘Please use capital letters correctly if you are going to pretend to be me’.

The second was a BBC news article titled, ‘Young people lack workplace skills’. According to a new survey, school leavers are inarticulate monkeys who can barely string a sentence together and businesses don’t want to spend money training them up. (I paraphrase slightly.) Comments underneath the article were vicious – not attacking the article or even other people’s ideas, but anyone who dared to share their thoughts in less than perfect English. One person wrote to another, ‘I think your spelling and grammer exemplifies the problem’. Ouch! And a little ironic given the writer’s own shortcomings in both.
 
The final event is my own confession. I wrote it’s instead of its in a text message. It was an autocorrect error but, given my line of work, inexcusable. I spotted the mistake and immediately followed up with another text promising to lash myself. My friend laughed; I was mortified and promptly bought a cat-o’-nine-tails.
 
What do these stories reveal? Even in informal and social situations, we care about our own writing and that of others. We judge. Harshly, and publicly.
 
But why? I don’t believe writing standards are slipping; we just produce so many more words than we used to. With hundreds of emails, texts and tweets each week, you’re much more likely to make a mistake than in the good old days when you wrote the occasional letter or card, by hand.
 
If we insisted on perfect language in every written interaction today, we’d waste even more time on damn social media. Hours would disappear into a black hole of finessing the grammar of status updates. Twitter would cease to exist because punctuation would consume the character count (I’m not saying that would be a bad thing). And hashtags would be outlawed. (Also not necessarily a bad thing. I might be on to something here.)
 
It’s not even like these mistakes really matter. Sloppy thoughts are much more problematic (and prevalent) than sloppy grammar. But that’s a post for another day.

So next time you make a mistake on social media, chill out! Your friends don’t care and, if they do, you need new friends. Save your energy and pedantry for when it matters: at work.