The Rewrite Spelling Wars

by Eva

This is the story of how the names Ryan, Steve, Daniel, Stuart, Frankie, Josh and Jake landed on our bad-word list.

Recent discussions about how to moderate submissions for an upcoming project (more about this soon) brought up fond memories of the swear word wars we participated in, during the public screening of our Rewrite the Year project, back in December 2011.

A quick recap: Rewrite the Year is a projection project and participatory website, that depicts a news headline for every day of the past year, and invites participants to rewrite those via text messages or the website. The key obviously was to have submissions show up instantly, to create opportunities for dynamic interactions between participating users. The problem was, that our most active audience was the youthful and adventurous group of teenagers using the skatepark located right next to the projection site at the Surrey Art Gallery in Vancouver.

The skatepark at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, that also houses the Surrey Art Gallery. [image credit: waferboard]

The skatepark at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, that also houses the Surrey Art Gallery. [image credit: waferboard]

When it comes to moderation of user content you basically have two options: pre-moderation or post-moderation. Pre-moderation means any content from participants lands in a moderation queue and needs to be approved by a moderator before it is made visible to the public. Post-moderation means everything goes public right away, no matter if appropriate or not, and a moderator has the option to delete offensive content in the aftermath.

Our general Daily tous les jours opinion on the topic is: it’s important that people can post what they want. Especially when the project tagline reads: If you don’t like it, change it. If you don’t like what goes on in the world – change it. If you don’t like what you see on the projection right now – change it.


So logically we decided on a post-moderation approach. But, we did add a filter to the software that automatically stars out any inappropriate words. This filter started out with a list of 22 words.

After the launch of the project the list grew to nearly 100 words just over the course of the first few days. The youth liked to call each other names by texting submissions and seeing them blown up big on the projection. At the same time, across the continent, we sat over our moderation interface and kept on adding their words to our list. Partially we were excited to have such active participants, partially we were afraid of being held responsible. In response to us filtering their vocabulary, our biggest fans became more creative and found new ways of spellings and new methods to get past the filter. You could say it was a very dynamic relationship. :)

Yet, the whole partnership slowed down after a few days. Possibly because they grew tired of our projection, or possibly because we decided to add their names to our filter. We condemned the names Ryan, Steve, Daniel, Stuart, Frankie, Josh and Jake to be starred-out. If this was the right decision remains to be debated, but at least it seemed effective and gave us some rest back then.

Should Rewrite the Year be resurrected in the future, we’ll have to find ways to avoid all moderation and filters, point at the project’s motto and encourage the act of rewriting instead. There must a fineprint for that somewhere.

The final list:
anal, analrape, analraped, ass, asses, asshole, azz, azzhole, bitch, bitche, bitches, bitchez, bitchz, butfuck, butt, buttfuck, cock, cocks, cocksucker, cocksuckers, cum, cunt, cunts, cunnt, daniel, daniels, dick, dicks, fag, fagg, fagget, fags, fck, fcuk, ffag, fffuck, ffuck, frankie, frankies, fuck, fucka, fucked, fuckem, fucker, fuckers, fuckin, fucking, fuckk, fucks, fukin, fuq, fuuck, fuuckk, gaayy, gay, gayy, ggay, ggay, gggay, homo, jake, jakes, josh, joshs, kike, nigga, nigger, niggers, paki, penis, penises, pussi, pussies, pussy, ryan, ryans, shit, shits, slut, sluts, steve, steves, stuart, stuarts, suck, sucks, suckss, suks, suucks, tanner, tanners