That pesky English language

My grandmother told me a story about her and my grandfather that made me laugh. There is a word in Spanish that used to be a slur but has changed a bit. The word is “güey“, a derivation of the word “buey” (bull). It used to be used to call someone stupid or a dimwit. However, it has become more accepted in Mexico to the point that it is not censored in media anymore.

Anyway, my grandmother said that my grandfather bought her a chocolate bar in the US and brought it back to her. She looked at the wrapper and threw it back at him. Why? The wrapper read “Milky Way”, so my grandmother read “Way” and thought it was “güey”. She thought the name of the candy bar was offensive. Of course, my grandfather explained to her that it was the name of our galaxy in English, and she happily ate the candy. From then on, it was her favorite, and he would bring her one from the US whenever he could.

When I was growing up and learning English, there were a lot of words that I didn’t understand. I had to hear them and read them in context a few times before I understood. I remember watching an episode of “The Flintstones” and not knowing what Fred meant by “grab the pumpernickel.” I recognized “nickel,” so I thought that he meant some kind of metal, or something valuable. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that I understood that he meant a type of bread.

Before we go any further, go read this post by Dorit Reiss on SkepticalRaptor.com then come back.

Did you read the comments? In one of them, Skeptical Raptor comments:

I just got reported for using the word “niggardly.” Those of you who read this blog who think that “niggardly” means anything racist, you ought to just go away. You’re third grade education is probably going to be overwhelmed by other words such as “evidence, pseudoscience, and utter bullshit.”

Facebook is uses an automated system to see if something is offensive or not. If enough people complain, Facebook just deletes the content. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, Facebook will ban you from the site for a number of days. The system is utterly incompetent. For example, I reported a post for promoting violence. This is what Facebook replied with:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.50.15 PM

What was the post? This:

“I would prefer to train 20 Syrian refugees to kill every member of the Baltimore city government who was in contact with the Baltimore city council prior to the april 15 Kwazy Frizzell Freddie Gray psyop called their insurance companies and made sure that the 68-riot insurance covered their properties.
Make no mistake, i have a recording of all the phone calls, every member of the city government who called their insurance companies before april 12.
They are going to be shot, stabbed and strangled to death.
I will train the refugees to get the job done.”

Here’s a screen shot of it:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.52.40 PM
Tim needs help.

According to Facebook, there’s nothing wrong with that post. Nothing wrong at all.

Ah, but woe be upon you if you use the word “niggardly.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.13.14 PM
It’s not what you thought it was, is it?

The anti-vaccine idiots who claim to be well-educated were going on and on about Skeptical Raptor using the word “niggardly” in one of his online discussions. They almost dance in celebration that they had something on him. They thought they had him for being a racist. Because “niggardly” is a racist term in their minds.

Because English can be complicated even to native speakers? No. It’s because there are words — in any language — that can be tricky to those who are frothing at the mouth to find “dirt” on someone. The anti-vaxxer in question is getting a lot of accolades from her friends for finding this word on Raptor’s personal Facebook page. As much research as they do, they don’t seem to have bothered to look up the damn word.

The person in question keeps reporting people, and her reports keep getting upheld by Facebook while my reports of Tim are not. This leads me to believe that something fishy is going on… The game is afoot.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

5 thoughts on “That pesky English language

  1. There’s a reason that I do my best to avoid Facebook. Their incompetence in policing their site and protecting hate speech and abusers.
    The only time they care is when they receive a warrant.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope there is enough of an uproar over this that it blows up in their faces. Facebook seriously needs to improve their reporting algorithm.

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    • It hasn’t changed in the past five years, it won’t change until it impacts membership and hence, advertisement income.
      If the web filter companies start noticing hate group entries input, they will eventually add facebook into the category for corporate web filters. That’s what it’ll take for facebook to even notice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Which is unfortunate because Facebook is just far too big and far too central for users to effect any kind of change.

        I’m with you on avoiding Facebook. I have a fake account under a throwaway email for when something requires me to use Facebook to log on or when Facebook requires me to be logged on to see something.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “This leads me to believe that something fishy is going on… The game is afoot.”

    I think this is very unlikely. Facebook’s report button has been abused this way for a long time by a lot of groups. It is simply a matter of a broken system that seems to weigh number of reports above anything else.

    My guess as to why (purely a guess) is that there is some fuzzy logic to allow the algorithms to catch misspellings, etc. Somehow, maybe based on the reason for the report or simply randomly, the logic evaluates the same post slightly different whenever it is reported. Then it becomes a numbers game. Report enough times and the algorithm will fuzz the post in a way that flags it as inappropriate. You can see how this might have happened with SkepticalRaptor’s use of ‘niggardly’.

    A historic example of report about (this is actually far more flagrant and repressive than what you guys are currently experiencing): http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/2/6083647/facebook-s-report-abuse-button-has-become-a-tool-of-global-oppression

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