Why We’re Creating Language to Hide from Tech’s Censorship Systems

As content moderation continually shifts, we should scrutinize what tech is doing to our language

Jamie Cohen
OneZero
Published in
5 min readApr 12, 2022

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Algospeak words from Know Your Meme: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/algospeak-slang-replacement

From txtspk to l33tsp34k to emojis to memes, we’ve been encoding language based on both our technology’s capabilities and our ability to find ways to communicate effectively on digital platforms. Recently, however, the rise of “algospeak” has emerged to show us we’ll create new speech to hide from the systems that aim to censor speech. According to Washington Post internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz, “algospeak” is the invention of “code words or turns of phrase users have adopted in an effort to create a brand-safe lexicon that will avoid getting their posts removed or down-ranked by content moderation systems.”

The ability to encode language, both graphically (see: memes) and phonetically (see: puns) is nothing new, but recently, social media’s algorithmic filtering has provided the impetus for a wave of new language interventions. When we communicate online, we adapt to the limitations of the technology. We often forget that we use technology on its terms, not our own, but that doesn’t prevent people from a fair amount of “creative misuse.”

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Jamie Cohen
OneZero

Digital culture expert and meme scholar. Cultural and Media Studies PhD. Internet studies educator: social good, civic engagement and digital literacies