Ever seen this?
CW: Web 1.0, discussion of some swears.
Good, easy, simple standards of automated censorship on the English-speaking internet is hard. English is a mess of a language with a lot of extraneous bits and a remarkably awkward manner of swearing. There are some words we can regard as ‘naughty’ and try to curtail their use, but some of them have legitimate uses. What’s more, there are a number of – entirely naturalistic! – ways of dealing with those words that may lead to an evasion.
Back on forums, moderation systems often relied on this kind of system, checking for dozens of variations of words, like fuck, frick, fack, f_ck and so on in an attempt to compete against people trying to skip around a swearword. But it got worse when you start looking at the English language as a whole and looked for the ways words could accidentally include these ‘rude words.’
Consider the word ‘ass.’ You may want your godly geocities guestbook to avoid showing that rude word so nobody can say ‘kiss my ***.’ Hang on though, what if they go for the word asskisser? That’s got the word ass in it, but doesn’t hit the filter. You could make it so the word ‘ass’ gets picked out of words, but what do you do if they want to hire an assassin, or an ******in?
When you start to spiderweb this out, you find there are a lot of these ‘rude’ words hiding in a lot of places, and there are some really weird effects of this on that web 1.0 internet. For a start, the word ‘gay’ was really commonly censored, because why would anyone use that word except to insult someone. The word ‘gay’ is a bad word, right?
Back in the days of Crosswinds and Geocities, I remembered reading on forums, kids discussing Gundam Wing characters, and a whole spur of the conversation that was about how these two boys would be a good couple, if they were [censored]. Not that they were saying he was, but if he was [censored], it would be, you know, a good match. Someone should write fanfic about that. Not us, of course, we knw [censored] was a bad word.
This carried through to a lot of other language. I remember reading a standard filter set that censored the word ‘LGBT,’ as if it was a word itself that could show up in conversations aside from the dark, profane language of The Queers. Oh and queer was on those lists, too. The irony that we wound up retreating to far less safe parts of the internet to find the content that was censored from us in our spaces that seemed reasonably safe and sensible sure must have messed us up. There’s a reason a lot of horny queer furries are inextricably linked to identities they kicked off back in their teen years on a different kind of internet.
It’s interesting to watch, now. I was ruminating on it recently, how the word ‘gay’ was first censored, then uncensored, and now we’re back at the point where a new crop of teenagers want to try and grapple with it, in the same way they want us older folk to stop using ‘queer.’ Control over the term is being asserted, over and over again, and the things we’re using to control and grapple with it are automated systems – searching for words, tags, and mutes, with all sorts of unintended consequences, or limitations we can’t circumvent.
Also I got banned from a forum once for saying ‘sniggering.’