Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How Social Media Benefits Writing and Language

We are all aware that the new technologies have changed the way we communicate with one another. Text messaging and social media have dumbed down the English language with their abbreviations, hashtags, and cutting down phrases to only letters (see you later = CU L8r). But these changes aren’t always negative. In certain ways these new technologies have also strengthen the English language, and a panel discussion on the topic “Slap My Words Up: Language in the Digital World” shows us how:

Social media increases our awareness of mistakes and helps us prevent them. We can look at the social websites as platforms for making errors, but we can perceive them also as platforms for catching errors. In most cases, when you make some grammar or spelling mistake in your Facebook posts or tweets your readers notice them and let you know in their comments or messages so you can fix them. When you know that your social posts will reach thousands of fans and followers and that they’ll continue spreading through the networks even after you’ve deleted them, then you’ll most probably find the needed time to carefully proofread your content before posting.

Helps us differentiate as writers. The fact that your audience is sloppy when writing on social media websites is not a reason for you to do the same. On the contrary, you should use this opportunity to differentiate yourself by advancing the conversations and providing quality written content. Partial production is a characteristic of the social media communication, but content creators can use these partial tweet strings and posts and convert them into full stories, interactive projects and analysis that go far beyond what a 140-character tweet can offer.

Social media highlights the value that short storytelling brings. Social platforms like Twitter where your message is limited to a maximum of 140 characters, or Vine videos where you only have six seconds to tell your story and get it across are our constant reminder that writing short and well isn’t at all easy. In fact, it takes some level of skill to be able to do a particularly good job writing short. And if you can do it well, know that shorter is almost always better.

Reminds us that change is constant. The language is constantly evolving and changing, and the new technologies introduced throughout the history are a healthy part of this evolution. As Paulien Dresscher, a new media research developer has said: “Just as Socrates was concerned that the invention of writing would make people forgetful, people today are worried about the degree to which we are permanently shaped by digital technologies.” When we moved away from the oral culture and first started writing, this made significant changes in the English language, and now that we are in this post-printed era it seems like we are getting back, since the conversational characteristics of social media resemble the oral communication much more than the written one.

Social media helps us create new words and find new meanings. Recent neologisms have in large part originated through the social media websites. If a certain word or phrase is persuasive and feels real enough, you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean. On Urban Dictionary and Wordnik you’ll even find explanations of misspelled words that we constantly use online, like dunno, l8r or aight. The word combinations made of brand or technology names such as googling, or tweeted, or friended, are great examples of how social media can benefit the language.

The article was written by Alice Norum, a writer for She contributes articles on education, writing, blogging and social media.