Presenter: Fiona Hulme Brophy


In this presentation, I consider the impact of the internet, Atlantic drift and the social media language rebellion on English language practitioners today and present a very real case for being positive about the future of editors!

There are reasons to welcome the new electronic discourse and many to condemn it. I give examples of the blurring of standard American and British English in publishing and invite participants to contribute their views and experience.

We look at intergenerational communications and specifically the influence of the internet and social media on productive language skills, concentrating on written language.

Currently, there are over two billion social media subscribers in the world and the number is growing as access to smart phones and the internet becomes more widespread. Consumers of social media, specifically the younger Gen Y and Z, expect to get their information readily in 30, 60 and 120 second ‘bites’.

In spite of the existence of billions of documents available on Google and other search engines, younger generations gain access to the information they need – for instance, how to deal with their finances – through ‘influencers’ who literally do just that: they directly influence their viewers and this practice is known to be highly addictive.

They create short vlogs of their recommendations and their credentials, for example ‘Fintok’ on Tiktok, a popular platform that reached 1 billion subscribers in 2021. Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, YouTube, among others, garner the avid attention of billions of viewers. All have either AI-generated captions or commentary sections, or both. The algorithms are set to capture as many of our personal preferences as possible and we are living ‘copy-tasting’ guinea pigs.

Writing used to be solitary function; now it is a social way to communicate and standards – perhaps with the exception of the brutal Twitter – are poor. Twenty years ago, our ‘letter to the editor’ may have garnered 50 readers if we were lucky. Now, a single post can reach hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of readers.

We could argue that the internet has sharpened writing skills because people are writing more – BUT they do so in very short form on social network sites etc. It may positively influence learning English, but our question is this: What is the quality of the source? In academia, often the peers are the culprits.

Imposing rules in the rebellious environment of social media means we are tested with new vocabulary, AI diction-to-text software that is not yet sophisticated enough for the world’s lingua franca. It is frequently adopted by second and third language users.

We know that the younger generations are avid consumers of social media. We’ll be editing for the social media age. They’re inventing their own language on every platform and it’s evolving very rapidly. As professional editors, we need to be aware of the trends, threats and opportunities.

But wherever they hail from, many contributors clearly do not have a strong grounding in English and are strongly influenced by US English conventions – perhaps by borrowing wholesale without much understanding of the niceties.

Translators tell us that AI should not be as scary a threat to language practice as it was first thought to be: the consensus is that authors and publishers will never be able to substitute AI for the human brain in committing their words naturally on paper or screen.


Fiona Hulme Brophy

Fiona was born in Cambridge, England, and grew up in India and South Africa. Widely travelled, she has completed more than 12 000 km backpacking across various countries and mountain ranges during the past eight years.

She combines her passion for the English language with an innate curiosity and desire to develop and mentor. She is a developmental editor, ghostwriter and author. Fiona contributes to the academic and journal editing spheres and continues to teach English as a second language. She has more than 30 years of experience as a copywriter, marketer, writer, editor and teacher.

Dave Henderson