Types of Profanity Filters for Online Safety

Mike King

It is difficult to talk about profanity filters without a common vocabulary among industry participants.  People looking for technology solutions will benefit from standardization of filter names, as well as some clarity around what distinguishes each type of filter.  We’re going to name those profanity filters, explain each, and give some examples using screen shots.  Here are the filter types: Black List Filtering, Free Form White List Filtering, Restricted Entry White List Filtering, Menu Messaging, and Bozo Filtering.

Black List Filtering

This filter allows the user to type any message they want except for words and phrases that are on the black list.  Some communities also disallow characters such as numbers and some forms of punctuation like !,.@$?\ and |.  Once the user types and submits their message, it is sent to the server to be processed by the filter; acceptable content is posted in the community, but restricted content is returned with a predetermined response, which might include replacing the letters with stars, blocking the message altogether or blocking the message from presentation in the community, but displaying it in the author’s message stream (bozo filter).

Example: The message is blocked and a warning screen is displayed

Blacklist Filtering

Animal Jam Blacklist Filtering

Courtesy: National Geographic Animal Jam® & Smart Bomb Interactive

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Kid Safety

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.

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