Profanity Filter: On or Off?

Mike King

Key Line of Defense

The profanity filter is a key line of defense in protecting online communities from bullies, trolls and pedophiles.  While these bad actors are present in forums and chat rooms, most people just want to participate freely with others who share a similar interest.   The community members have differing sensibilities; some people are less sensitive than others to foul language and racy content.  Are there times when it makes sense to turn the filter off? Who should have this control, and just how much freedom should they have?

Profanity Filter

Menu, Whitelist, Open Messaging

Community managers, users and parents all control the filter to some extent in many online environments.  There are three levels of chat engagement: Menu, Whitelist, and Open Messaging.  Each of these levels gives community managers a different degree of filter control.  Menu messaging allows children to engage in online conversation using a predetermined dictionary of ‘safe’ words and phrases.  Whitelist messaging is similar in that there is a list of acceptable words that can be used in the community, but the list is much more comprehensive and a filter is employed to ensure communications use the whitelist words in an acceptable manner.  An open messaging environment has free communications in any language, but a blacklist is employed with a filter such as CleanSpeak to protect against inappropriate content.

Panic Button

Do you, as the community manager, ever want to turn off messaging completely?  Or have you ever wanted to quickly tweak your filtering rules because they weren’t working as you expected? We suggest that communities build in a global toggle switch that allows messaging to be completely turned off (just in case something serious happens). We also suggest that you use a sophisticated chat filter such as CleanSpeak that lets you control all aspects of the filter in real-time.

On or Off: You Choose

Adult users (16+) want the freedom to express themselves in chat rooms and forums without censorship, but most don’t want to be exposed to crude and inappropriate content.  It’s okay to provide an off switch for those who don’t mind playing in the real world with likeminded users.  To be clear, only those who turn the filter off will be able to see offensive language and content.  Others who are using the filter can still communicate with those who aren’t, but they won’t see messages restricted by the filter.

Training Wheels

Most parents want full control over the filter used for their children (<16).  Providing parents with the ability to switch their child’s account between the three levels of messaging will help them feel more comfortable with your community.  They may choose to start out with Menu Messaging, allowing their child to select messages from a predetermined list. Then, when the child matures and understands safe online behavior, the parent can give them access to Whitelist or Open Messaging.

The profanity filter should always be used even if only to capture and omit the most offensive messages.  When used correctly, a filter such as CleanSpeak has a tremendous flexibility that allows a community manager to control content to a very fine level.  You can still have a toggle (On/Off) switch for users who don’t want the protection, and a variable set of controls for parents to protect their children in the online world.


Further Reading:

5 Online Safety Tips to Teach Your Child

Prevent Users from Sharing PII & Account Information

7 Ways To Be More COPPA Compliant