This is not about the merits of the filter. But it exists, and its implementation is so limited it is ineffective, with good, easy workarounds. I consider this to be a bug.

You might feel different and consider this to be a feature and can now go crazy fixing the more useful occurrences of problem in titles.

If you want to voice your opinion on the filter itself, this is not the topic for it. Please see the following topics:

Introduction and previous attempts

It is easily possible to circumvent the problem title filter. Now, there were horrible workarounds like the leet pr0blem, or proble and problam as previously mentioned on MSO.

IMO, the most elegant solution so far is @slhck's, which uses lookalike characters from other character sets. They might even work with Google. This solution has two drawbacks though: The workaround is obvious through the ASCII-only search engine friendly question URL (which contains e.g. problm instead of problem), and at least with Safari's search function, searching for problem does no longer find the title of the topic.

A better workaround

I was able to edit this post in a way that works with both Google and in-browser search.

Edit diff

Screenshot of the innocent edit that shouldn't have passed

Google snippet

Search for "GRUB problem or hardware problem" find the title even though it contains additional characters

 In-browser search

Searching for "problem or" finds part of the title "GRUB problem or hardware problem"


I inserted a Unicode character after each occurrence of problem that is considered to be part of the word: Zero-width joiner U+200D. It might also work with the zero-width non-joiner and zero-width space. I didn't test those.

The site search itself fails to find the topic, since the character is part of the problem term. Both my browser and Google ignore it though.

Site search result does not find "problem" in the title

How do I insert this character?

Open /System/Library/InputMethods/CharacterPalette.app on a Mac (e.g. via Edit » Special Characters… in pretty much any application), and search for 200d. In the second list will be an invisible item whose outline becomes visible once selected. Drag and drop onto an editing text field.

  • 4
    I don't think I understand the point of this post.
    – balpha StaffMod
    Feb 13, 2012 at 12:38
  • 2
    Wouldn't "GRUB loading failed" or "Could not read from source" during boot be a better title? Feb 13, 2012 at 12:40
  • 2
    I always considered those similar to honeypots...if you see such a thing you know the user is up to no good, disobeying the rules and stuff. Feb 13, 2012 at 12:41
  • 1
    @balpha There is a filter. It's easy to effectively circumvent it with very little negative side effects. This is the bug report for it. Feb 13, 2012 at 12:46
  • @Bobby I don't actually care about that particular topic or what would be a better alternative. You're already discussing the merits of the filter, something I tried preventing by adding the lengthy note at the beginning. Note that I also explicitly mention it's not possible to detect this in the ASCII URL. This is why it's worse than slhck's suggestion, since it's less detectable. Feb 13, 2012 at 12:48
  • 3
    You're missing the point entirely. Write a better title instead of looking for ways to work around the filter. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:24
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    @BilltheLizard So are you. Note that this topic was originally tagged bug, and is just intended as a bug report. I don't give a damn about topics with problem in the title. I just point out that the filter implementation is ineffective. If this is by design, just say so. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:29
  • 1
    Everyone already knows that. Why are you wasting time coming up with a search engine compatible way of putting "problem" into titles when we clearly don't want non-descriptive titles? Feb 13, 2012 at 13:31
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    @DanielBeck We can't discuss this "bug" without discussing the purpose, and therefore merit, of the filter. Further, this type of workaround for site restrictions has been endlessly discussed elsewhere - probably the best summary comes from balpha here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/119614/… . Only in cases where something breaks the site will action be taken against unicode exploits.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 13, 2012 at 13:34
  • @AdamDavis Great link, thanks. Please add it to your answer. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:35
  • @BilltheLizard If I can, so can everyone else, including the users who want to add problem to titles, for whatever reason. It appears the filter is designed to prevent both new and experienced users from using problem in the title (therefore the rejection of slhck's idea). I'm simply demonstrating that it can be circumvented in an inconspicuous way. If the team doesn't care, just mark this bug status-bydesign, as I've asked balpha to do 40 minutes ago. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:42
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    @BilltheLizard I've posted other bug reports before that allowed users to circumvent certain protections. I'm not the one who should judge the severity, and I'm not. See the lengthy preface to the post. I just point out a certain behavior that seems broken. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:45
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    The effort that has gone into circumventing this block is near-epic. Feb 13, 2012 at 15:50
  • @AndrewBarber SO moderators are doing it too. It's nothing new. Check SU topics 7637714, 7684018, 8423947, 8203395. For some other less useful instances by other users, see e.g. 8189334, 3193024, 8130867 Feb 13, 2012 at 15:57
  • Here's a workaround that doesn't break SO's search: stackoverflow.com/questions/11703827/… In any case, -1 for trying to block much needed workarounds Oct 26, 2012 at 17:56

2 Answers 2


The filter is intended only to encourage users to re-think their title. It is not intended to fully stop the use of the word "problem" in the title.

Were we to fanatically pursue filter perfection in this regard, we would be working endlessly because we, as programmers, are pretty good at finding corner cases. It's not worth it, since the only time this filter is meant to take action is when a well-meaning user uses the word in the title.

We are not targeting abusive users with this filter - we have a variety of other means to encourage them to use the site better. balpha sums it up pretty well:

There are many work-arounds for certain limitations. Sometimes we fix them, sometimes we say "meh". If the restriction prevents a couple of [bad posts], it has fulfilled its purpose. ... When you allow users to post stuff, there's always going to be someone who uses the magic of unicode to do smart and/or funny stuff.

As long as it's something that can be looked over, that's fine. If it happens too much, we'll prevent it, but it'll always be a game of cat and mouse – sooner or later someone finds something else.

If you come across a question which uses the word "problem" inappropriately and appears to be a deliberate abuse of the system, flag it as such. Otherwise, let the filter gently remind new users of their obligation to provide a descriptive title, and ignore users who post good titles that use a workaround so they can use the language they desire, even if it's discouraged.

  • 3
    That, precisely. Also, your SO rep is once again above your Meta rep; don't you want to stop CWing your posts? :)
    – balpha StaffMod
    Feb 13, 2012 at 13:01
  • @balpha In this case, status-bydesign? I thought I made clear I wanted no discussion about the filter here... Feb 13, 2012 at 13:03
  • This explanation is, by the way, inconsistent with responses to this topic. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:04
  • @DanielBeck I don't see the inconsistency - it was declined and many of the responses disagree with the suggestion. This appears to reaffirm that the filter is meant to discourage use of this word for everyone regardless of reputation. Again, discourage does not equate to absolute detection and filtering - there are workarounds, but they require effort, and those that regularly abuse it will be dealt with using other techniques.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 13, 2012 at 13:20
  • @balpha I'm still getting residual rep from my older meta posts at a rate greater than residual rep on stackoverflow, and I still contribute here but not there. So I have to keep up the CW to maintain my vain desire to keep SO rep above meta. I have nearly 2x as many answers here as I do there...
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 13, 2012 at 13:22
  • Compare the linked topic responses to your first sentence. It is designed to prevent all users from using that term, not just new users. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:24
  • @DanielBeck Ah, I see. Hopefully this update clarifies it better.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 13, 2012 at 13:29
  • And here's the problem: As this topic shows, experienced users are not prevented from using problem in topic titles. We have enough topics on whether filtering is useful, and how users should handle it. This is just reporting a problem with the current implementation that makes it ineffective. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:32
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    @DanielBeck "This is just reporting a problem with the current implementation that makes it ineffective." It is as effective as it needs to be. We're getting a dozen or so questions per month with the word "problem" in the title right now. Look at the site prior to the filter and we're getting hundreds of questions every day with the word problem. The filter is as effective as it is intended to be. You're talking about getting that last 1% of performance out of the filter, and we're all looking at it we don't see the problem. It's not worth the effort.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 13, 2012 at 13:45
  • @AdamDavis I don't care about SO, as I primarily use SU. This is the meta site for all Stack Exchange sites, and the filter affects (at least some of) them alike. Feb 13, 2012 at 13:46
  • 1
    @DanielBeck Please post your analysis of how bad the situation is there. If users are abusing the system using this method to the degree that it is impeding site quality, I'm quite certain it will be dealt with. Noticing a loophole isn't reason to close it. Noticing the effects of a loophole might be.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 13, 2012 at 13:47
  • Let's also not forget that sometimes this loophole is useful. For example when asking about the halting pr0blem.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Feb 13, 2012 at 16:13
  • @AnnaLear Oh come on. "What is the Halting Thingadongdong?" is just as clear. ;-P
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 13, 2012 at 16:16

I think it's reasonable of filter designers to expect that most users capable of exploiting advanced trick like that are also capable of finding better alternatives.

Using your example, as a regular (non-moderator) user, I would prefer other, simpler and more straightforward way to handle this problem than messing with special characters:


In my experience it typically happened that question text provides better replacement for "problem‍" - including SEO perspective.

above, "problem‍" is written using mentioned trick "problem‍"

  • 3
    You do realize that you're missing the point? Note that this topic was originally tagged bug, and never was intended to discuss the filter itself, just its easily circumvented implementation. See the top of the question for links to quite a few topics that contains variations of this answer already... Feb 13, 2012 at 13:25
  • 1
    @DanielBeck well my point is - I hope that most users capable of exploiting problem‍ trick are also capable of finding better alternatives
    – gnat
    Feb 13, 2012 at 15:05
  • I hope so too... we have other topics that discuss this already though. Feb 13, 2012 at 16:16

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