Profanity use in online communities

Sara Owsley Sood*, Judd Antin, Elizabeth F. Churchill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

93 Scopus citations


As user-generated Web content increases, the amount of inappropriate and/or objectionable content also grows. Several scholarly communities are addressing how to detect and manage such content: research in computer vision focuses on detection of inappropriate images, natural language processing technology has advanced to recognize insults. However, profanity detection systems remain flawed. Current list-based profanity detection systems have two limitations. First, they are easy to circumvent and easily become stale-that is, they cannot adapt to misspellings, abbreviations, and the fast pace of profane slang evolution. Secondly, they offer a one-size fits all solution; they typically do not accommodate domain, community and context specific needs. However, social settings have their own normative behaviors-what is deemed acceptable in one community may not be in another. In this paper, through analysis of comments from a social news site, we provide evidence that current systems are performing poorly and evaluate the cases on which they fail. We then address community differences regarding creation/tolerance of profanity and suggest a shift to more contextually nuanced profanity detection systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConference Proceedings - The 30th ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2012
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 2012
Event30th ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2012 - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: May 5 2012May 10 2012

Publication series

NameConference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Proceedings


Other30th ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAustin, TX


  • Comment threads
  • Community management
  • Negativity
  • Online communities
  • Profanity
  • User-generated content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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