What You Censor

What the f*ck, why not.

Content Warning: Mean words, words about traumatising content, not invoking the traumatising content itself.

Ever noticed the shit people won’t say?

One of the hallmarks of Tiktok creators graduating to other platforms is there are particular speech affects and conversations that they bring with them. Particularly, you may notice creators on youtube who seem really reluctant to say certain words, even if the content they’re talking about blatantly requires it; words like drug, kill, gun, murder, or some words for sexual assault. These people know that there’s a chance ‘the algorithm’ will get their posts if they present ‘bad words’ which they believe their algorithm can detect and punish them. Doesn’t matter if this is true or not, by the way, they believe it to be true so that’s how they behave.

This isn’t to argue they’re wrong by the way – I personally think this is probably a superstition that reacts to a reality, but also TikTok does deliberately prime you with a lot of response and attention up front to get you hooked on the content economy. Perfect for getting brain worms.

Youtube creators who are entirely ad-dependent often do this kind of thing too, because it’s possible to get demonitised for reasons that youtube makes really opaque. Wendigoon once did a multi-hour series discussing the worst serial killers in history, which is basically the new form of ‘listicle’ we’re all meant to hate, and I want you to imagine how awkward it is hearing someone trying to discuss that topic while using idioms like ‘perform self-unalive.’

By the way, noticed that I used the term ‘some forms of sexual assault’ rather than ‘rape?’ Even though that’s pretty much what we’re talking about, even here, even on the platform I have a lot of control over, I feel reluctant to use that word, on its own. Why? It’s a nasty word. I don’t like making people think about the concept, even while I talk about the word.

This is in contrast with Tumblr, which both does not let you monetise your posts with ads in the same way or treat your content as entirely audience-facing, but which has a robust blocking system that means that if you want to discuss a thing, and other people do not want to see you discussing that thing, the healthiest thing you can do is clearly and non-weirdly mark that thing so people who want to opt out of it can do so. This was put into sharp relief this week when a warning about antisemetic violence was being passed around in case anyone in the area could see it, and well-meaning people tagged it with ‘cw: antisemitism.’ That’s a good way to prevent people seeing content they don’t want to see, but it has the same effect as putting cw:fire on a fire alarm in case you don’t want to upset someone who may be upset to know the building is on fire. There are other concerns.

Over on mastodon, there’s a body of people talking about twitter, which they do with multiple content warnings. That this is so common kind of paints the idea that twitter itself is seen as fundamentally traumatising. Part of the CW culture of mastodon can also be that there is a giant pipeline of content anyone can look at with All The Posts In It, which means that it’s a platform that kind of has this id, and you can if you want look at an unprepared, unalgorithmic expression of what everyone on the site thinks in aggregate.

I have an impression but not one I’m willing to back up that this may be why mastodon posting tends towards being kind of arch? Like, people there are aware that any given statement might be seen by a total stranger who has no greater context for The Kind Of Person You Are or whether or not you’e being sarcastic. That makes sense, there’s a narrative there I find easy to believe about why the place is fundamentally a lot like an extremely defensive and traumatised person with nothing to talk about but that trauma defensively, but obviously, I don’t really use mastodon (in part because I was kinda scared off by a lot of traumatised and defensive posts). A story being easy to believe and construct doesn’t make it true, at all.

Something twitter has going for it that’s seemingly well understood is Name Searching Weirdoes. As a point in its favour, any time on twitter you want to have a conversation about an idea, you can search for it on twitter, find whoever’s having that conversation right now and talk to them. This, like many things on twitter, is primaril regarded as a problem you need to act defensively in order to protect yourself from the results.

You don’t talk about some things because of the weirdoes, or if you do talk about them you do it with minced language or deliberate search corruptions, like how I spent four years referring to the president of the united states as ‘fuckface’ because I really, really did not want to talk to people who wanted to search twitter to get into conversations about him. This did have an effect; any time I wanted to post about the guy, I did ask myself if ‘hey, is this obviously who I’m talking about?’ and if it wasn’t, I wound up not posting it. In this way the Anyone Can Find This nature of the place meant that I was slowly discouraged away from a topic, because the worst fans of that topic could find me easily. I only briefly talked about NFTs in that space, and only loudly because I was trying to steer a platform I use (kickstarter) away from them.

The result then is that on twitter, mincing a name or a subject material like say if you wanna talk shit about eg&bug, communicates ‘I want to talk to my audience about this, but I don’t want the people in question to find this talk.

Meanwhile, over on Cohost if you mention someone, you send attention their way, but crucially, they don’t know you did it, which can feel a bit one-way, but also, this isn’t a website that feels like there’s room for you to Send A Basket Of Weirdos. I was brought to think about this when a twitter creator made a long thread about problems they perceived with Cohost, but they also censored all mentions of Cohost as C*h*st, a behaviour I normally see used to avoid the notice of big weirdoes and assholes. It’s interesting because by doing that, it both communicates a distrust of sharing that criticism with Cohost, and casts an illusion of distrust over Cohost as people you can’t safely assume would say, not send in the weirdoes.

Of course, it did get attention outside of that circle, and I am I guess one of the weirdoes, but I am very much not trying to piss in that person’s letterbox just by paying attention to things they say.

I think about this when I type out words like “f*ck” or when I write content warnings on my blog. A long time ago, I said something I meant to convey ‘if you can take the time to write spoiler warnings, content warnings take no more time,’ a position that got someone mad at me because I think they felt I was lumping the two things together in terms of their importance. Having just done Dread Month, where I do write about a bunch of bummer things, I did think about how many times talking about horror media I have to CW stuff like ‘oh yeah, this game gets racist or sexist or transphobic in a weird way at a weird point and I want you going in knowing it might happen so it doesn’t come at you as a rude shock.’

What you choose to treat as dangerous is by necessity, made dangerous.

Back to top