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
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.”
We grow up learning how to communicate orally and we slowly build our literacies by converting sounds and ideas into print. When we understand the process of encoding language, we also must learn decoding, or the act of reading. But to go one step further, we must also understand what we are reading which helps us think critically.
If one is developing the components of language — e.g. phonological, lexical, morphological, grammatical, textual and pragmatic skills — then the learning of “the code” serves to facilitate the transference of the learner’s speech into print, which itself can serve as a platform upon which further literate language can be built.
Importantly, the requirements of our communication technology often sets the agenda and the language process of coding, decoding…