LJ and the Scunthorpe Problem: No Spice Girls or Doo-Wop for you!

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So Russian outfit SUP have taken over Livejournal. As I discussed last week, there has been much concern about their rumblings about “taste”, “decency”, and “political concerns”.

elfwreck has just discovered that they have already started blocking the searchability of certain terms in Interests:

Right now, some interests don’t work for searching, neither from the searchbar nor people’s profiles. These include “genocide” (and all easily-identifiable variations: rwanda genocide, romani genocide, etc.), “child pornograpy” (and variations thereof), “child prostitution,”


BLOCKED includes:
Anything with the string “spic” (including “spice girls” and “spicy food”)
Anything with the string “genocide” (including several recent armed conflicts)
Anything with the string “fag” (including fagus, the genus of beech trees)
Anything with various “racist” terms, like “cracker” (including “cheese and crackers” and “goldfish crackers” and “cracker barrel”)

The “spice” block also blocks searches for “hospice” information. Also blocked are strings like “chink”, “skinheads”, and “wop” (including “doo-wop”). Unblocked terms include “man boy love”, “ethnic cleansing”, “incest”, “NAMBLA”, “teen sluts”, and “zoophilia”.

This is an example of the Scunthorpe Effect or Scunthorpe Problem, a phenomenon in which sub-strings of terms are blocked as false-positives by stupid censorship programmers. The term is named for a 1996 AOL filter that excluded Scunthorpe residents from creating AOL accounts, on account of the dirty word in their address. Penistone and Lightwater residents had a similar problem. I’ve seen the same sort of thing happen when a medical mailing list I’m on started blocking emails containing the word “specialist”.

Putting aside the futility of blocking attempts in the first place, and the ethical issues involved in imposing it suddenly and without notification (especially on paid/permanent account users): there is just no excuse for the Scunthorpe Effect these days. It has been described over and over and over, and everyone with a sliver of clue knows about it. For fuck’s sake, SUP, lift your game.

Add your block discoveries in comments.

P.S. Yes, it’s a real intersection – in Greenwood, Western Australia.

Update 13 Dec 2007: *spic* and *cracker* seem to have been unblocked today. Other blocks remain in place.

Categories: language

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11 replies

  1. Also blocked: Maine coons, raccoons, crackerjacks, Cocoon, tycoons, aspic, suspicious, despicable, perspicacity, spica (a type of cast used for hip dysplasia in babies), twopence, firecrackers, Christmas crackers, The Nutcracker, contrafagetto (a musical instrument), Prussian Blue (a pigment used in medical treatment and histology), 1488.
    Go have a play and add your own.

  2. They’ve banned a genocide term search?
    Interesting, given the complaints against LJ’s former USA based owners 6 Apart over their failure to act on white supremist groups in Russia using LJ’s to promote hate speech and even organise meet ups to attack Romani groups. Of the examples I saw 6 Apart didn’t respond to the hate sites, just replied that groups outside the USA weren’t within the scope of the policies they had.
    Urging members to use LJ ethically without coming out and stating a clear policy on these issues themselves is pretty unconvincing.

  3. They’ve banned a genocide term search?

    Yes – you can search “ethnic cleansing”, but not “stop genocide”, “Rwandan genocide”, and so on.
    All of the child sexual abuse blocking could also hamper people finding survivor support groups, so this isn’t purely linguistic niggling.

  4. More blocked search terms:
    Dago: so dagoba, Dagobah, pedagogy and all its derivations
    Spicks and Specks
    Essex Children’s Choir
    Young Essex Assembly
    East Sussex Children’s Trust
    East Sussex Children’s Book Award
    Cumberland, Virginia
    aryan knitting
    Indo-Aryan languages
    moral mom
    Balmoral school
    choral school
    corporal punishment in school
    demoralized father
    doctoral motherhood
    baby coral fish
    young mayoral debate
    school morals
    spanking in schools
    my brother Dick
    ecumenical schools
    my child won’t eat capsicum
    baby circumcision
    circumcising little boys
    circumspect mothers
    school documents
    childhood molluscum contagiosum
    Draper family
    young grapevine
    school parapet
    family therapeutics
    trapeze school
    floral school
    pastoral care in schools
    baby with absent pectoral muscle
    young trapeze artists
    asexual motherhood
    sextants in schools
    baby sextuplets
    circumference of virginia
    growing capsicum in virginia
    baby skinks
    rape resister
    femoral epiphysis of child
    and, yes: Scunthorpe schools is blocked.
    For why the combo blocks, see this and this.

  5. So Sussex and Wessex organisations will also be having troubles.

    And any dentist site talking about oral care?

    Wotta buncha maroons.

  6. Heh. Elfwreck has created a new lj, cannot_find_me, whose interest list contains only blocked interests. Currently:

    allspice, anti-genocide, are your interests lj-approved?, aspic, baby grapes, black and tan coonhound, christmas crackers, cocoons, conspicuous sunglasses, coonskin hats, cracker barrel, crackerjacks, dagoba chocolate, dagobah, donald fagen, doo-wop music, fagin, family morals, firecrackers, genocide awareness, gobbledygook, goldfish crackers, hospice care, hospice workers, inconspicuous consumption, indo-aryan languages, jeff spicoli, maine coon cats, maryanne, maryanne fisher, nutcracker suite, pedagogies, pedagogues, perspicacity, raccoons, rice crackers, rocky raccoon, rollercoaster tycoon, sesame crackers, spice girls, spicy food, sugar and spice, suspicions, suspicious minds, swop meets, the coffee beanery, the nutcracker, wheat crackers.

  7. Christmas crackers, The Nutcracker…
    LJ has killed Christmas!!!1!1

  8. Great snakes. Please don’t take my gobbledygook!
    Moving away from LJ feels like a wiser decision every day…

  9. More blocked terms:
    unisex baby clothes
    despicable liars
    baby grapes
    coffee beaneries
    sugar and spice

  10. More: “lick” and “fist” are in the Rude column for the combo blocks. So you can’t search for
    “colicky baby”, “mothers with fistula”, “frolicking baby lambs”, “young click beetles”, “slick teachers”, or “schools on flickr”.

  11. A staffer update on the LJ blocking can be found here. The upshot? They’re not telling, and they’re not telling why they’re not telling us which system is in place, and they won’t tell why the system is in place, and they won’t tell us which terms or blocked and why, and they won’t admit it’s broken, and they’re not going to tell us when it’s fixed.
    But they’re telling us all this because they wanted to address the issue and they’re all about the communication, dontcha know.

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