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Should You Use Profanity Filters?

Posted by Patrick Groome on Apr 9, 2014 3:50:59 PM

2 minute read

no swearing profanityThe worst features in the world #1: Profanity filters.

Features are nice. Everyone likes features. If you look at a new piece of software, the first thing they’ll tell you about are the features. No matter which forum software you use, it’s going to have a ton of different plugins, addons, widgets, dongles. You know. Features. A word that sounds weird the more you say it. Features.

Talking about the features of your software that you like is super passe, so I’m going to buck the trend and talk about one that I don’t think anyone should use: profanity filters. You’ve probably seen or used one of these yourself; they take any naughty words from a specific list and either blank them out or replace them with something else. That seems good, right? I don’t think so. In fact I think it’s a manifestation of a larger problem within community management.

What’s the reason for the filter? To stop people swearing. The theory is that there’ll be no fun in swearing if the words don’t come out right. In practise, one of the following things happens

  1. The users continue swearing constantly, happy in the knowledge that it will be filtered regardless. Your forum becomes ****** full of this kind of ****, and it looks ****** terrible.
  2. The users respond to your filter by trying to find the limits of it. Is **** filtered? What about if I spell it with a ph instead of an f? What if I use numbers instead of letters? What if I- etc. You will never beat human ingenuity on this matter.
  3. Some users are bright enough to stop swearing, and are simply more creative and passive-aggressive in the ways that they’re awful to each other.

Aside from the fact that swearing is manifestly brilliant, a profanity filter is a software solution to a management problem. If you don’t want people swearing on your forum, tell them that it isn’t allowed. Put it in the rules. Use whatever gradual punishment systems you have in place if they ignore you. Ban them if they persist. If your users won’t do what you ask them to without a software solution, you’re getting something wrong.

Personally I find swearing to be a wonderful, cathartic way to use language. I just counted, and I swore seven times in the creation of my own rules thread. Good ones too. My personal view is that moderation should focus more on stamping out things like bullying, elitism, prejudice and the variety of other shitty behaviours that a user can express perfectly adequately without swearing. I understand however, that swearing isn’t appropriate for every forum and that at some point you’ll need a way to get people to stop doing it. All I’m suggesting is that perhaps the best way to get your users to stop doing something is simply to ask.

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Patrick Groome HeadshotGuest post by Patrick Groome. Patrick is the Administrator of the Penny Arcade forums. Penny Arcade is one of the most popular and long running gaming webcomics and organizer of the PAX gaming conference.

Topics: Community, News

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