On social media they are too often used as weapons to abuse, mock and vilify.
But, there is a very real price to be paid if you get sucked into the dark underbelly of the online world.
Teacher turned councillor, Kathleen Leslie’s derogatory comments about the First Minister were awful. Her comments on the SNP supporting couple who won the lottery were abusive.
She has no defence.
Three years on, she has also paid the price by agreeing to be struck from the teaching register –a sad way for any professional career to end – but she is free to continue in her new role role as an elected councillor.
Not fit to be a teacher, but fit for public office?
Her new role on the council’s standards and audits committee certainly came with ironic timing – it certainly handed her political opponents an open goal. Time will tell if she weathers the sound and fury.
Going ahead, Ms Leslie certainly needs to learn her mistakes, understand that words matter – and ponder the role her words played in normalising abuse on social media.
Using terms such as ‘‘a drooling hag’’ are not only unacceptable – they make it okay for others to then lower the bar even further.
As a teacher she should have known better.
As a councillor she must certainly strive to do better.
Argue with passion and conviction by all means, but if you are remotely close to tweeting ‘‘a drooling hag’’ for pity’s sake, step away from the ‘send’ button.
There is no doubt that during the independence referendum, some people got sucked in so deep they lost all sense of perspective.
The debate was the best of times – a glorious, articulate and lively year which engaged people in politics like no other – and it was the worst of times as the echo chamber of social media resounded to some very bitter personal attacks and horrible jibes.
As Ms Leslie has found out, words matter.