Last year we blogged about Urban Dictionary’s focus on content moderation. We knew that sustaining the unique spirit of Urban Dictionary would require big changes. Here’s what we’ve changed, and what we haven’t changed, so far.
Definitions are no longer moderated by volunteers. Under the old system, a definition was published when a majority of volunteer moderators decided it was worth publishing. We appreciate our volunteer moderators’ work over the years. Over time, this system had become dominated by a loud minority who published abusive definitions and didn’t publish the good stuff.
We updated our public content guidelines, and detailed content guidelines, to clarify what’s okay on Urban Dictionary. Generally, a definition that describes an offensive or violent term is okay, but a definition that endorses or promotes an offensive or violent term is not okay.
We redeveloped our moderation system. Our own moderation team now reviews all newly-submitted and flagged definitions, and rejects definitions that violate our content guidelines. If you see a definition that violates our content guidelines, please flag it, and our moderation team will review it quickly.
This project is ongoing and we welcome your feedback. And if you’d like to join the moderation team, let us know.
This summer we posted Rethinking The Dictionary and invited your feedback. To the thousands of users who wrote in, we heard you and we want to address your concerns:
- You noted that offensive words can be educational and informative.
- You love that Urban Dictionary can be both useful and funny.
- You asked us to protect Urban Dictionary’s irreverence and authenticity.
A user from New York said:
The world is full of diverse thoughts and languages. Solving “hate” or “abuse” will not be accomplished by selectively deeming slang words to be unacceptable for a dictionary that attempts to keep up with colloquial language as it becomes popular.
A user from Missouri said:
You provide a service that helps people identify and inform themselves […] While some words are offensive, they NEED to be defined so that people can arm themselves with information and understanding. Children ask parents what bad words mean. Pretending those words don’t exist doesn’t help them or anyone. Informing them and educating on meanings DOES.
A user from Florida said:
You don’t defeat evil by hiding it away, you expose it to the light, because only then can people see how bad it is, and only then can their minds be changed on it.
We agree with you. We know that the real world can be offensive and is full of offensive words. Urban Dictionary is an important tool to understand what those words mean. Knowing an offensive word’s meaning can combat inequality and abuse. But there is a difference between using Urban Dictionary to document the meaning of an offensive word and using it to celebrate or endorse an offensive meaning.
We will not ban certain words, and we can’t solve hate and abuse in the world (who can, really?). But we will clarify Urban Dictionary’s community guidelines and build better tools to enforce them. Our goal is to help users write better definitions, and empower users to flag definitions that do not meet our community guidelines. We hope this will improve the overall health of Urban Dictionary.
A very small number of users are responsible for the abusive content we want to remove. Right now their behavior has an outsized impact on the rest of the site — it harms the community and often silences other voices. We want to change that. But the things you love about Urban Dictionary will not change: the irreverence, creativity and humor will remain. The work we are doing now aims to preserve that.
We want to keep hearing from you and welcome your comments in the form at this link.
Twenty years ago, I started Urban Dictionary as a place for everyone to share their language. It was intended to subvert the authority of the traditional dictionary and to document our messy, weird, and unpredictable language as it evolved. Every day, regular people add thousands of definitions, making it a living cultural document. Since 1999, our community has written over 12 million definitions. I’m proud that Urban Dictionary has become a source of laughter and an irreplaceable reference made by and for the people.
But, over the years, online discourse has changed, and so have the words we’re receiving.
Like other online platforms we’ve been inundated by hate speech and abusive content targeting women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other vulnerable groups. Hate speech and abusive content online can cause real harm offline. It can also make people feel unsafe to speak up and share their language, silencing entire groups of people. This is not what we want our platform to be for.
Urban Dictionary plays an important role in defining language on the internet and popular culture. To do this right and to earn the role you’ve entrusted us with, we need to make sure our system measures up to our values. The site has always been a place for people to define the messier edges of language, but we can’t allow it to foster hate.
Words matter — it’s kind of our whole thing here — but actions matter more:
- We will not allow Urban Dictionary to be a home for hate speech and abusive content. We support the work of Black Lives Matter to dismantle systemic racism. We accept our own responsibility to fight racism and hate, and acknowledge that we have failed to keep abusive content off our site.
- We take this work seriously and it is our priority. We are reviewing our core processes on how words are added, reviewed, published and removed. We are investing in technology and human review to better enforce our standards. We’ll post updates on our progress here.
- We will change as hate speech changes. No single fix will work forever. Hate speech and abusive content will evolve, and we’re committed to changing our policies to meet it.
As we rethink the dictionary, we want to hear from you. Urban Dictionary is written by you, and we want you to be involved while we decide what is and isn’t acceptable on it. Please share your thoughts in this form. In a few weeks, we’ll share what we’ve learned from your feedback.
Founder & CEO
Why Urban Dictionary Comes In Handy On The Witness Stand
May 22, 2013
The use of slang in court proceedings can be tricky, especially in criminal cases where an uncommon slang term used by a witness can make a difference in a case. New York Times tech reporter Leslie Kaufman and law professor Greg Lastowka talk about how judges and lawyers have turned to sites like Urban Dictionary to help define slang terms and the legal implications of the trend.
— Why Urban Dictionary Comes In Handy On The Witness Stand | Talk of the Nation
Urban Dictionary Finds a Place in the Courtroom
May 21, 2013
Slang has always been a challenge for the courts in cases that involve vulgar or insulting language. Conventional dictionaries lag the spoken word by design. That has lawyers and judges turning to a more fluid source of definitions: Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced collection of slang words on the Internet.
— Urban Dictionary Finds a Place in the Courtroom - NYTimes.com