Rethinking the Dictionary

July 7, 2020

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.

Thank you,

Aaron Peckham
Founder & CEO