-6

While we merrily close questions asking about profanity and vulgar language usage on Stack Exchange as duplicates of Are expletives (cursing, swear words or vulgar language) allowed on SE sites? the reality is that users are not following that rule, moderators are not enforcing it, and edits to comply with it are being rejected by the community. The filters, I assume, have been disabled or watered down over time.

IIRC, using profanity was only allowed when discussing the word itself, or if it was part of a quote, or a proper name of some place, but even in those cases it was expected to have a few letters replaced so as to avoid having the sites placed on "adult only" internet filters.

If you search for a variety of vulgar words you'll find they now permeate many sites, are no longer restricted to situations where the profane word itself is under discussion, and when they are a necessary part of the post are not self-censored.

I still agree with the original rule for a variety of reasons, but if the network no longer enforces it, supports users who would like to see it enforced, and encourages moderators to ignore the rule, then isn't it simply time to recognize that this is the de-facto new rule, change the original post, and move on?

I'm not going to pick on any specific situations, it's easy enough to use the search box to find hundreds of questions containing uncensored, and often unnecessary, profanity on most sites, and, of course, you can find all the profanity across all sites using Google.

Of course, if this rule still is in effect then we need to have a larger discussion about how best to handle this across all the networks. Is this something that's overwhelming the moderators? Have individual sites chosen to ignore some rules they don't believe applies to them? It's no longer something that can effectively be handled the way we've been told to in the past - asking the poster to change, editing, or flagging. None of these options work any longer.

  • Relevant: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/246006/… – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 0:10
  • 11
    Seems like something that needs to be addressed on a per-site level. The sites I use seem to be generally expletive free. If some sites are having issues, it's unreasonable to penalize the entire network for their failures. – Catija Aug 4 '17 at 0:23
  • 1
    Last I checked, I wasn't an employee when that old discussion happened, and I know I've added several auto-approve flags for various forms of vulgar language, blacklists, etc. since getting hired so... I blame PPCG. – Shog9 Aug 4 '17 at 0:25
  • 1
    @Catija Have you searched for profanity on the movies and tv stack exchange, your top site? It's one of the worst - a lot of it is uncensored quotes, but there are also posts where the words are used for effect, and in fact my most recent rejection of edit, and rejection of flag was on that site due to a post that wasn't a quote. So I'm not sure I can believe your statement that the sites you use are generally expletive free, and thus your implication that it's limited to a few sites only. – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 0:29
  • Search for the lessor profanity such as dam* and sh*t on sites such as seasoned advice and note the usage there. I'm not going to go through every site, and obviously there are a few sites where its necessary to have the word uncensored (the two english language sites when discussing those specific words), but I have not yet found a site where profanity simply didn't exist. I'm sure there must be several, but the biggest sites appear to have this issue, and I'm running more and more into moderators and users who prefer it that way. – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 0:32
  • 3
    Here's a stab at being objective: how effective is a site at removing vulgarity? – Shog9 Aug 4 '17 at 0:37
  • 1
    @AdamDavis My activities on M&TV have declined as I became focused on other sites. I haven't been what I consider a regular user on the site - looking at everything, answering regularly etc - for several months. Im not sure that "damn" is a big deal, though... so maybe you have a stricter definition than I do. I'm also not really sure I understand what you would have is do instead... become fully open to foul, abusive language entirely? – Catija Aug 4 '17 at 0:41
  • 5
    It is, to be fair, a poor tool for the job - it matches "letitsnow.mp3", for example. However, it makes up for that by also being crushingly slow. – Shog9 Aug 4 '17 at 0:41
  • 3
    Are you just after certain words or you also consider context ? – Ankit Sharma Aug 4 '17 at 3:48
  • 5
    What is the point if you want to keep the discussion incomplete? Context matter and if we talk about censoring we should consider all situations. – Ankit Sharma Aug 4 '17 at 4:05
  • 2
    @AnkitSharma This question doesn't address context. It merely asks whether we should change the policy, or adhere to the old one. While a discussion of context might be informative once one of these two paths is chosen, it would derail the purpose of this question. I appreciate the importance of context, but we've had many discussions about it in the past which I've participated in. You can have that discussion in those questions if you need to delve into it further, but I do not need to do so, and it would not help answer this question. – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 4:12
  • 3
    @AdamDavis: If you decide on policy before looking at concrete examples, then the discussion is not meaningful. The issues that you bring to light (a discrepancy between the guideline and its real world application) can be explained by your interpretation of the context in which this guideline should apply. So if you want to reevaluate the policy, we must also reevaluate the context on which the policy is applied. Are we trying to censor words (explicitly) or meanings (implicitly)? Are we trying to steer the content (implicitly) or improving the format (explicitly)? – Flater Aug 4 '17 at 12:58
  • 1
    @AdamDavis: It's somewhat strange that you "merely ask whether we should change the policy, or adhere to the old one", and as a justification as to why you are asking this, you state that there are many examples of swearing to be found. You didn't explicitly mention them, but your justification still relies on their existence regardless. And then when counterpoints are made that contradict the applicability of your argument, you then argue that concrete examples aren't relevant. You can't base your question on the existence of something that you then explicitly exclude from the discussion. – Flater Aug 4 '17 at 13:05
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    @AdamDavis: You are right about answer vs comment, and I am composing an answer as we speak. However: "If you have evidence that such examples don't exist" It is impossible to prove a negative. If anything, the burden of evidence lies with you, if you claim that they exist. – Flater Aug 4 '17 at 13:21
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    @AdamDavis: You're cherrypicking. Shoq9 himself immediately confirms that false positives are not excluded in any way. Catija then continues that a vast majority of cases (that she checked) relate to direct quotes, not unwarranted swearing by the author themselves. This has all been established and you've responded to it, yet you omit it when bring up the same point here again. – Flater Aug 4 '17 at 13:33
20

It's not beneficial for Stack Exchange to write a blank check for the users to use profanity at all times. This is a professional site and, as such, language should be kept in line with that. Nor is it possible to enumerate all of the acceptable uses of profanity or curate a list of what words are considered "profane".

That blanket statement answer in the post you link started out saying, simply:

Expletives are not acceptable behavior on meta or any other Stack Overflow site. If you can't effectively communicate what you need to say without resorting to lowest common denominator cursing, then keep it to yourself.

If you use expletives, you will get a warning.

If you continue to use expletives, you will be placed on timed suspension.

It was much later edited to add the caveat that allows limited usage, though there's no actual explanation of what that limit is:

There are a very small handful of exceptions (such as if you were talking about the word itself on a language site), but in general you should not use expletives anywhere, under any circumstances.

This ambiguity leaves moderation up to the users. So, it's fair for a user, or a moderator (who is really just a user with a few extra bells and whistles), to interpret this as they see fit.

So, while the only guidance we have is:

  • Discussion of the words is OK on language sites.

It could easily expand to:

  • Discussion of or quoting dialogue/titles/text that includes these words is OK on sites that do so
    • Literature, M&TV, SFF, Worldbuilding... etc.

So, from this, we have potentially two exemptions... which makes room for others.


Also note that there's no list of words that are banned. Which words are offensive, and to what degree, depend upon an individual's own opinion. As an example, you list "damn" in the comments as "lesser profanity". Some don't consider it profane at all and some consider it practically worse than everything else, particularly when directed at another person. Plus, oftentimes it's how a word is used that makes it profane, above and beyond the word itself.

While limited in scope and with obvious flaws, I'd hesitate to say that Shog's Query makes the sites look generally compliant. On most sites, the occurrences of the words seems to be relatively low-frequency (considering the volume of content) and much that is posted is removed or seems to be part of a quote. So, overall, I don't think this requires a major policy change.

What we may need to do is be more cognizant and reflective. Rather than declining flags or rejecting edits, we should be working to find better ways to say the same thing. Sometimes it's very simple to do because the usage is blatant and pointless. In cases where the context is important, writing an alternate that still carries the same meaning can be difficult.

Because it's an example at hand, the post you attempted to edit on Movies & TV (and I'm assuming the one you flagged) is worth looking at. The OP of that post clearly used the term "fuck" to mean "have sex in a very rough and forceful manner in an way utterly devoid of the trappings of love or romance." I can understand why someone would find this worthy of editing. It should be changed. I understand the usage and am personally fine with it but it doesn't belong here.

I think that your edit suggestion was rejected because you tried to replace "fuck" with "rape". While you were correct that the word should be changed, the change you suggested wasn't a good fit. Presumably because of this question, Shog has edited it and I think it fixes things quite nicely. The rather squicky use of "orifice" was also removed and the meaning is still there without being so graphic.

Moderators are not perfect and they're not always experts at all of the rules. We've recently had to tighten up our enforcement of harassment/abuse/profanity in chat and it seems we need to be a bit more diligent on the sites themselves and responsive to our userbase. While we can't always sanitize everything perfectly to everyone's preferred level of clean, we can respond to concerns when users submit edits, flags, or meta posts.

The important thing is to be heard. If your edit is rolled back or rejected, flag. If you flag is declined, take it to the per-site meta. That's the only way we can remind ourselves on a site-by-site basis that profane content shouldn't be allowed. Custom flags only allow so many characters but meta posts are both public and (effectively) of unlimited length.

Now, if the CMs want to put out an alert to all the mods or all of the users, that's within their capabilities but, as users and moderators (diamond or otherwise) we should fall back on our smaller communities to push for change locally.

  • 3
    This is a thorough answer - it should also be mentioned that people can sign up as young as 14 - so I would recommend that the site has a PG rating as a general guide - some of the content does exceed that in discussion. I didn't think this was important enough to write up as an answer, so have added it here. – Yvette Colomb Aug 4 '17 at 9:41
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    @YvetteColomb I'm sorry but I have to disagree. If that's what you would like to champion, please do write your own answer so that we can vote on it but I don't think that relates to this discussion in the general sense. This question is about vulgar language. PG ratings affect far more than language (nudity/sexual content, violence, suggestive dialogue, and coarse language - in the US) so the scope is completely different. I'm also not convinced that because we have users as young as ___ we should pander to them. – Catija Aug 4 '17 at 15:42
  • I can comment my opinion under any post in meta. That's what they're there for. Having an audience that is underage should affect the vernacular - it's a no brainer. – Yvette Colomb Aug 4 '17 at 22:00
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    That you can technically do something, does not mean you should. – Nij Aug 5 '17 at 22:42
  • @Nij I don't follow you. I don't believe I ever said that anyone should use profanity gratuitously. – Catija Aug 5 '17 at 22:54
  • Was referring directly to the previous comment. – Nij Aug 5 '17 at 23:22
8

I'm not saying that the facts you are pointing to are wrong (although it's hard to argue the underlying evidence for your argument if you supply no evidence), but your way of addressing them is not correct.

The purpose of moderation is the application of existing policy.
Similarly, the police do not decide on what is illegal, they mere apply the existing legislature.

Your argument points out that there is a discrepancy between the policy and the moderation. You claim that there are many examples of the moderators not applying the established policy. If this is the case, then we should be reevaluating moderation, not the policy itself.
Similarly, if the police hardly ever manages to capture murderers, does not mean that we should revoke the laws on murder, simply because the police fails to enforce these laws like they should.

From the way you phrase your question, I infer that you do not think that the policy is wrong, but rather that it needs to be enforced better. So for the purposes of this answer, I am going to address ways to improve enforcement by moderators.

If my inference is incorrect, and you do think that the policy is wrong (regardless of how it is currently enforced), then you should argue against the policy on principle of it being wrong, not point at issues in moderating the established guideline.


Whenever we create a rule, there's an important question to ask: Can we apply this rule globally, or do we need to observe the context before we can say whether the rule is violated?

Moderators should only really be involved with the latter. Moderators are there to interpret the context and evaluate whether every specific instance they come across is a actual violation of the rules.
The moderators should not be tasked with enforcing blanket statements. Frankly, it is a waste of their time, because blanket statements can be enforced by the website without requiring human effort.

I think it's fair to say that moderation only deals with rules which cannot be accurately enforced by a machine. This is why moderation exists in the first place, because some rules factor in "the human element", which machines are incapable of evaluating.

I refer back to your question, where you stated the following:

IIRC, using profanity was only allowed when discussing the word itself, or if it was part of a quote, or a proper name of some place, but even in those cases it was expected to have a few letters replaced so as to avoid having the sites placed on "adult only" internet filters.

Going by this statement, the word "fuck" should never appear on the site. If its use cannot be avoided, it should be written as "f*ck" or "f***", even if the word is used in an innocent context (e.g. a semantical discussion or a direct quote from a script)

I disagree with this notion that swear words should be explicitly banned from the SE community unilaterally. For me, this is part of a larger opinion about the necessity of censorship altogether; but that is not the current topic of discussion.

If what you say is indeed the case, we should not expect the moderators to check all questions for the occurence of this word (or any other banned words). The website itself should refuse any question, answer or comment that uses this word, since there is literally no context in which its use would ever be deemed acceptable (going by your interpretation of the rules).

So if your argument is correct, then you should also agree that the moderators should not be tasked with this job. They are needed to moderate context-specific issues; and you're arguing that swearing should always be avoided regardless of context.

Although I admit this is somewhat of a pedantic niggle, you also contradict yourself:

it's easy enough to use the search box to find hundreds of questions containing uncensored, and often unnecessary, profanity on most sites

The fact that you don't consider all usages of the swear words that you come across as unnecessary, contradicts your statement that all usages should be banned globally.

For the continuation of this answer, I am going to assume that the absence of such a global rule implicitly proves that swear words are allowed on the site in a proper context.
If that is not the case, then someone needs to develop a text filter for post submission. This should not land on the moderators' shoulders.


Another point that is essential to the validity of your claim: your evidence. I will again let you speak first:

I'm not going to pick on any specific situations, it's easy enough to use the search box to find hundreds of questions containing uncensored, and often unnecessary, profanity on most sites, and, of course, you can find all the profanity across all sites using Google.

I followed your advice, and had a cursory browse. I checked for the following words:

  • The F word
  • The C word
  • A-hole

On the following sites:

  • Movies & TV
  • English Language & Usage
  • SciFi

Just like Catija already confirmed in an earlier comment, the overwhelming majority of hits are "innocent" uses of swear words.

  • Direct quotes, or the paraphrasing of direct quotes
  • Discussing word etymology or usage (e.g. why the C word is less offensive in Australia compared to America)
  • Discussion topics on swear words and censorship
  • Intentional translation between real swear words and minced oaths.

It's really hard to find actual transgressions here. The usage of swear words in the contexts that I listed here can all be considered acceptable: they either quote others (as a matter of undeniable fact) or discuss the word, rather than apply its meaning.

All in all, I would have to commend the mods for doing such a commendable job. The fact that I struggle to find any real cases when explicitly looking up swear words, should prove that the mods are doing an adequate job.


To summarize

If you think that the policy should change, then you should address the policy and not just point at flaws in the moderation of the policy.

If you think that some swear words should be banned from the site on a global level, then you should take that up with its developers. This is not part of the moderator tasklist.

If you think that there is currently a lack of moderation for the established policy, then I would like to see some evidence to justify that claim. For as much as I've been looking, there is little to no offensive material to be found.
You requested (in the comments) that I prove that no such thing exists; and I'd like to repeat here that proving a negative is impossible. The burden of proof lies with you, if you're the one bringing up the subject.

  • I gave you an up-vote for "moderation only deals with rules which cannot be accurately enforced by a machine" and I would like to point out that moderation isn't just done by the site moderators. The community does the majority of day-to-day moderation of content through review queues, editing, and flags. So, if there is an issue with content moderation, it should be made clear whether we're talking about the mod team or the community at large... – ColleenV Aug 4 '17 at 15:55
  • @ColleenV: Good point! Delegating some of the moderation to the users (or a large subset of them) also ties your policies to "common sense policies". If a policy is made that the majority of users disagree with, such a policy can become practically unenforceable (which is a good thing, in my opinion). You can argue that SE's currently existing posts with swear words are only able to exist because the community doesn't see anything wrong with them. – Flater Aug 5 '17 at 14:00
6

In the interest of objectivity, I took that crappy query I posted in the comments and ran it on every site on the network, with the exception of Stack Overflow, twice - once for August 2011 to August 2012, and again for August 2016 to August 2017.

I present, without comment or edit, for your perusement, bemusement, edification consternation and subsequent pontification... The results:

2011-2012

PostedBlue StillBlue StillBlueNoQuotes Site Name 
---------- --------- ----------------- --------- 
145        11        10                Super User
88         60        54                Server Fault
0          0         0                 Stack Apps
10         5         5                 Cooking   
2          1         1                 Home Improvement
17         10        9                 Game Developers
262        48        46                Gaming    
1          1         1                 GIS       
30         16        14                Mathematics
6          4         4                 Photography
9          4         4                 Statistical Analysis
17         4         3                 Web Apps  
20         6         6                 Webmasters
54         10        10                Apple     
3          0         0                 Theoretical Computer Science
148        110       72                English Language and Usage
9          2         2                 Personal Finance and Money
18         11        11                Role-playing Games
20         16        16                TeX - LaTeX
119        17        14                Ubuntu    
8          5         4                 Unix and Linux
55         42        40                WordPress 
12         8         7                 Bicycles  
162        77        67                Programmers
23         3         2                 Android Enthusiasts
4          3         3                 Board and Card Games
43         26        17                Physics   
4          0         0                 Homebrew  
25         12        11                IT Security
13         9         5                 Writers   
10         5         5                 Electronics and Robotics
8          4         4                 Graphic Design
8          3         2                 Database Administrators
32         20        15                Science Fiction
7          1         1                 Area 51 Discussions
8          5         4                 Code Review
39         36        34                Code Golf 
2          1         1                 Quantitative Finance
7          6         6                 Project Management
30         9         1                 Skeptics  
10         3         3                 Drupal Answers
8          4         3                 Fitness and Nutrition
3          2         2                 Motor Vehicle Maintenance and Repair
4          2         2                 Parenting 
2          2         2                 SharePoint
4          2         2                 Musical Practice and Performance
0          0         0                 Software Quality Assurance and Testing
139        123       89                Jewish Life and Learning
0          0         0                 Astronomy 
10         10        7                 German Language and Usage
25         24        10                Japanese Language and Usage
1          1         1                 Gardening and Landscaping
9          4         2                 Philosophy
6          6         6                 Personal Productivity
13         4         4                 Travel    
2          2         2                 Cryptography
0          0         0                 Literature
0          0         0                 Signal Processing
29         27        7                 French Language and Usage
14         8         3                 Christianity
5          4         3                 Bitcoin   
10         8         3                 Linguistics
13         8         3                 Biblical Hermeneutics
0          0         0                 Economics 
7          6         5                 History   
0          0         0                 LEGO®     
6          5         3                 Spanish Language and Usage
1          1         1                 Computational Science
27         27        12                Movies    
4          3         2                 Chinese Language and Usage
2          2         2                 Biology   
0          0         0                 Poker     
2          2         1                 Mathematica
6          2         1                 Cognitive Sciences
1          1         1                 The Great Outdoors
9          7         7                 Martial Arts
3          2         2                 Sports    
3          1         1                 Academia  
2          0         0                 Computer Science
9          8         6                 The Workplace
0          0         0                 Windows Phone
1          0         0                 Chemistry 
0          0         0                 Chess     
0          0         0                 Raspberry Pi
3          2         1                 Russian Language and Usage
3          0         0                 Islam     
0          0         0                 Salesforce
0          0         0                 Patents   
18         13        11                User Experience
0          0         0                 Genealogy and Family History
0          0         0                 Robotics  
0          0         0                 ExpressionEngine
0          0         0                 Politics  
6          1         1                 Audio-Video Production
0          0         0                 Anime and Manga
0          0         0                 Magento   
0          0         0                 English Language Learners
0          0         0                 Sustainable Living
0          0         0                 Tridion Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Reverse Engineering Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Arduino Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Network Engineering Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Open Data Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Freelancing Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Blender Stack Exchange
29         26        23                MathOverflow
0          0         0                 Space Exploration Stack Exchange
35         34        34                Sound Design Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Tor Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Pets Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Amateur Radio Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Italian Language Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Aviation Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Ebooks Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Beer Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Software Recommendations Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 cs50 Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 edx-cs169-1x Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Expatriates Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Mathematics Educators Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Earth Science Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Joomla Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Data Science Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Puzzling Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Embedded Systems Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Craft CMS Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Buddhism Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Hinduism Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Moderators Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Startups Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Worldbuilding Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Emacs Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 History of Science and Mathematics Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Lifehacks Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Engineering Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Coffee Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Vi and Vim Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Music Fans Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Woodworking Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 CiviCRM Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Health Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 Русский язык
0          0         0                 Mythology Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Law Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Open Source Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 elementary OS Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Portuguese Language Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Computer Graphics Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Hardware Recommendations Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Documentation Beta Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 3D Printing Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Ethereum Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Latin Language Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Language Learning Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Retrocomputing Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Arts & Crafts Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Korean Language Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Monero Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Artificial Intelligence Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Esperanto Language Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Sitecore Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Internet of Things Stack Exchange

2016-2017

PostedBlue StillBlue StillBlueNoQuotes Site Name 
---------- --------- ----------------- --------- 
254        35        32                Super User
53         21        19                Server Fault
1          0         0                 Stack Apps
14         4         4                 Cooking   
20         9         9                 Home Improvement
25         11        10                Game Developers
148        18        15                Gaming    
8          2         2                 GIS       
10         2         2                 Photography
18         9         8                 Statistical Analysis
17         3         3                 Web Apps  
11         2         2                 Webmasters
94         14        14                Apple     
0          0         0                 Theoretical Computer Science
275        176       83                English Language and Usage
18         9         9                 Personal Finance and Money
61         26        21                Role-playing Games
36         23        22                TeX - LaTeX
177        47        47                Ubuntu    
51         21        20                Unix and Linux
107        83        77                WordPress 
12         7         7                 Bicycles  
41         23        19                Programmers
62         14        14                Android Enthusiasts
3          2         2                 Board and Card Games
100        64        53                Physics   
5          3         3                 Homebrew  
55         26        20                IT Security
45         35        31                Writers   
49         29        26                Electronics and Robotics
28         5         5                 Graphic Design
14         3         2                 Database Administrators
138        76        31                Science Fiction
0          0         0                 Area 51 Discussions
79         50        46                Code Review
417        361       354               Code Golf 
6          1         1                 Quantitative Finance
6          3         3                 Project Management
30         13        3                 Skeptics  
7          1         1                 Drupal Answers
20         12        9                 Fitness and Nutrition
21         9         9                 Motor Vehicle Maintenance and Repair
46         20        14                Parenting 
4          3         3                 SharePoint
30         17        14                Musical Practice and Performance
3          3         2                 Software Quality Assurance and Testing
164        144       83                Jewish Life and Learning
2          0         0                 Astronomy 
12         11        4                 German Language and Usage
95         89        50                Japanese Language and Usage
5          4         4                 Gardening and Landscaping
30         19        11                Philosophy
12         10        8                 Personal Productivity
27         15        15                Travel    
3          1         1                 Cryptography
6          4         0                 Literature
4          3         3                 Signal Processing
37         35        12                French Language and Usage
25         12        3                 Christianity
15         5         4                 Bitcoin   
4          3         1                 Linguistics
27         20        9                 Biblical Hermeneutics
4          2         2                 Economics 
18         11        8                 History   
2          0         0                 LEGO®     
16         14        5                 Spanish Language and Usage
2          1         1                 Computational Science
151        90        41                Movies    
12         10        6                 Chinese Language and Usage
23         8         6                 Biology   
8          4         4                 Poker     
10         3         2                 Mathematica
8          1         1                 Cognitive Sciences
11         8         6                 The Great Outdoors
9          6         5                 Martial Arts
4          0         0                 Sports    
72         33        30                Academia  
7          2         2                 Computer Science
130        84        69                The Workplace
6          0         0                 Windows Phone
31         0         0                 Chemistry 
1          0         0                 Chess     
9          0         0                 Raspberry Pi
12         8         6                 Russian Language and Usage
14         3         1                 Islam     
10         6         5                 Salesforce
5          2         2                 Patents   
19         13        9                 User Experience
0          0         0                 Genealogy and Family History
0          0         0                 Robotics  
0          0         0                 ExpressionEngine
31         19        10                Politics  
9          2         2                 Audio-Video Production
74         32        22                Anime and Manga
15         8         6                 Magento   
90         66        26                English Language Learners
1          1         1                 Sustainable Living
0          0         0                 Tridion Stack Exchange
3          2         1                 Reverse Engineering Stack Exchange
6          2         1                 Arduino Stack Exchange
11         3         3                 Network Engineering Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Open Data Stack Exchange
5          3         1                 Freelancing Stack Exchange
24         6         6                 Blender Stack Exchange
19         15        12                MathOverflow
8          2         2                 Space Exploration Stack Exchange
9          5         4                 Sound Design Stack Exchange
25         8         7                 Tor Stack Exchange
18         2         2                 Pets Stack Exchange
1          0         0                 Amateur Radio Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 Italian Language Stack Exchange
12         7         6                 Aviation Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Ebooks Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 Beer Stack Exchange
9          5         5                 Software Recommendations Stack Exchange
5          5         5                 cs50 Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 edx-cs169-1x Stack Exchange
9          5         3                 Expatriates Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Mathematics Educators Stack Exchange
3          1         0                 Earth Science Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Joomla Stack Exchange
3          2         2                 Data Science Stack Exchange
25         13        12                Puzzling Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Embedded Systems Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Craft CMS Stack Exchange
13         11        8                 Buddhism Stack Exchange
80         65        12                Hinduism Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 Moderators Stack Exchange
5          3         2                 Startups Stack Exchange
154        115       103               Worldbuilding Stack Exchange
4          2         2                 Emacs Stack Exchange
3          3         1                 History of Science and Mathematics Stack Exchange
4          1         1                 Lifehacks Stack Exchange
2          0         0                 Engineering Stack Exchange
2          2         2                 Coffee Stack Exchange
2          0         0                 Vi and Vim Stack Exchange
7          5         3                 Music Fans Stack Exchange
1          0         0                 Woodworking Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 CiviCRM Stack Exchange
17         7         7                 Health Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 Русский язык
11         8         4                 Mythology Stack Exchange
14         7         6                 Law Stack Exchange
4          4         4                 Open Source Stack Exchange
5          2         2                 elementary OS Stack Exchange
2          2         1                 Portuguese Language Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Computer Graphics Stack Exchange
4          2         2                 Hardware Recommendations Stack Exchange
0          0         0                 Documentation Beta Stack Exchange
2          1         1                 3D Printing Stack Exchange
8          5         5                 Ethereum Stack Exchange
19         19        1                 Latin Language Stack Exchange
2          2         1                 Language Learning Stack Exchange
2          2         2                 Retrocomputing Stack Exchange
2          1         1                 Arts & Crafts Stack Exchange
4          2         2                 Korean Language Stack Exchange
7          6         4                 Monero Stack Exchange
3          1         1                 Artificial Intelligence Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 Esperanto Language Stack Exchange
1          1         1                 Sitecore Stack Exchange
1          0         0                 Internet of Things Stack Exchange
  • 2
    Presumably this doesn't account for false positives? – Catija Aug 4 '17 at 3:16
  • Most certainly not – Shog9 Aug 4 '17 at 3:17
  • I'd almost be tempted to take the sites where it's happening the most and finding out if it's many users using rarely (ie, community consensus) or if there are a few who are frequently using. – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 3:58
  • @AdamDavis I did a quick review on M&TV after your comments earlier and, while there certainly are occasions when they are used in a way I don't deem appropriate, most of the utterances seem to be in quotes. Part of what I'd appreciate in your question is if you could be more clear about what you're looking for... you can see the deleted answers on the FAQ... do you want a minor change in policy to broaden the "acceptable usage" slightly to match actual usage or do you want to remove the prohibition entirely... would you like a list of words that SE deems to be unwelcome? – Catija Aug 4 '17 at 4:03
  • @Catija I would like either a policy clarification, or an effort to apply the current policy. Right now we have a policy that is being actively ignored in the situations where I've attempted to correct posts, ask users to correct their own posts, or ask moderators to intervene where a user disagrees with the policy. Something has to change. Personally I'd prefer adherence to current policy, but since even moderators are denying flags for such cases I'm not sure that's what Stack Exchange wants. – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 4:09
  • I notice that Mathematics is absent from the 2016-2017 table. I presume this is because the query timeouts. (At least it does for me). – user642796 Aug 4 '17 at 4:16
  • 5
    @AdamDavis I'm pretty sure that the policy is vague on purpose. I've been on sites that make major efforts to limit (through filters) certain words and... inevitably, utterly benign things get caught. You told me to look at M&TV and I found the flag you were talking about... The usage of the word "fuck" was intentional and served a purpose. It was supposed to be vulgar... heck, the poster even apologized for it afterwards. Context is always important to consider. Replacing words when they're obviously tossed out there with no valid reason is necessary... – Catija Aug 4 '17 at 4:17
  • @Catija and the current policy is no vulgarity, at all. So are you suggesting we change the policy? Regardless this comment thread isn't the right place for this discussion, consider posting an answer if you want to defend certain uses of profanity and vulgarity on the network. – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 4:23
  • 5
    @AdamDavis That is not the current policy. The FAQ reads - There are a very small handful of exceptions (such as if you were talking about the word itself on a language site), but in general you should not use expletives anywhere, under any circumstances. - no one knows what these "handful of exceptions" are other than the one that animuson wrote in. – Catija Aug 4 '17 at 4:25
  • great. My site is the most vulgar. I'm mildly suprised, and a mix of horrified and amused by this. – Journeyman Geek Aug 4 '17 at 4:30
  • @Catija I'm glad to see you have a lot to say on this subject. Please consider submitting an answer with your opinion on the main point and your reasoning behind it. – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 4:33
  • Compare to CodeGolf, @journeyman... Also note that while many posts start out vulgar on SU, few remain. – Shog9 Aug 4 '17 at 4:38
  • @JourneymanGeek Don't know if I should congratulate or feel sorry ;) – Ankit Sharma Aug 4 '17 at 5:41
  • @Shog9 movies.stackexchange.com/posts/77984/revisions – A J Aug 4 '17 at 8:07
  • @Shog9 Do these figures include deleted questions and answers? If so we can blame a couple of SU trolls for most of them ... – DavidPostill Aug 4 '17 at 11:42
4

I'm not convinced that

  1. the policy isn't being enforced.
  2. there are many users who are aware of the policy and ignoring it.
  3. there is a significant problem with the way we identify and correct gratuitous profanity.

Just because some people get away with breaking the rules doesn't mean they aren't enforced. It just means that the measures necessary to achieve 100% enforcement are draconian and/or counter-productive.

There will always be some disagreement about where exactly the line is between offensive/non-offensive and gratuitous/necessary. There will also be some instances that get overlooked and some folks that get away with more gratuitous profanity than others. That doesn't mean that we get rid of the rule or stop enforcing it.

If your attempts to remove profanity are consistently rejected by the community, that suggests to me that you might not have a good feeling for what the community norms are for necessary/gratuitous or offensive/non-offensive on a particular site. The best way to resolve that is to have a discussion on meta with the community about why particular edits were rejected. Maybe the most active reviewers are not in line with the majority of the community, or the rejections had nothing to do with the profanity. We don't know unless we communicate with each other.

The wrong way to handle disputes about community norms is to use a couple of specific instances as evidence that we need new rules, more draconian enforcement, changes to the rules, or some other form of "force people to comply with my interpretation of the all the rules in all instances or don't have any rules at all."

  • "you might not have a good feeling for what the community norms are" So you assert that the rules on vulgarity and profanity change on a per-site basis, that the rules here don't apply equally? – Adam Davis Aug 4 '17 at 13:21
  • 4
    @AdamDavis You seem to think that your interpretation of the rules is the only valid interpretation. This is not a good way to approach a volunteer community. Different sites on SE are different communities and have different levels of tolerance for certain things. ELL is very tolerant of some things that would be unacceptable in other communities because we have a language barrier to deal with and we crack down harder on other things (e.g. spelling, punctuation) for the same reason. The rules are the same, the implementation is different. – ColleenV Aug 4 '17 at 13:27
2

As a moderator - I've generally taken a low tolerance approach to this on the main site, and traditionally a moderate tolerance approach to this on comments (I do admit to being irate at a user for bulk flagging profanity, even bringing this up on meta. I'm fine with recent posts being fixed, or flagged but I don't go out to find old ones.

When facing such issues, I tend to try to look at the big picture - is this a rare case where this word is appropriate, is it actually offensive (with such things like the target of the term, and general social appropriateness. I personally am guilty of using the unbowderised form of "Agony in my Donkey" often). I look at context and so on as well.

Some users just like to cuss. We fix that the first time, and escalate if they persist.

That said, this is one moderator's policy on one site. I can influence other moderators, but I suspect the right thing to do here is to engage the moderators and the commnity. Ben N made a brilliant case in that question I linked earlier for lower tolerance. On a broad level a polite,direct, cited expression that this is a problem on a site is a good start

Oftentimes, I'd also suggest actually editing, and/or commenting to let the OP know community norms. "Hey, we like to keep language here generally suited for everyone, so I've edited your post for you" is roughly what I use.

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