Of Rude Words and Asterisks
October 4, 2007
by Greg Lukianoff
Just a side note to today’s press release
on the Colorado State University case: Some readers have asked why we edit certain “swear words” in some of our website and e-mail materials, while leaving the profanity intact in other contexts. The first reason for this is very simple and practical: in e-mails, we try to avoid fully spelled-out profanity because four-letter words in an e-mail can sometimes trigger spam filters and prevent e-mails from reaching their recipients. Further, being caught in today’s necessarily aggressive spam filters also increases the likelihood that our domain name will be listed as a source of spam, which would cripple our ability to send out e-mail updates and press releases. Secondly, we also have a policy to avoid having profanity on our home page if possible, but if you go to the full text of our website press releases and materials you will find all offending words to be asterisk-free. Given that most newspapers have relied on the tamer “F*** BUSH” format, and given that everyone knows what “F***” means, we think this is a reasonable practice.
(When it comes to this blog we just try to exercise discretion, and while we avoid gratuitous swearing, we leave it up to the individual bloggers whether they think such words should appear edited or in full.)
But make no mistake about it; our efforts to make sure that everyone receives our e-mails, and that as wide a swath of people as possible (even those who strongly object to profanity) are open to our message, do not mean that FIRE believes that “coarse” language should be any less protected than polite speech. Personally, profanity has never much bothered me, and I find it amazing that in 2007 we are actually having a censorship fight over whether a newspaper (distributed to members of the college community, who range from students fresh out of high school to retirees) can include such a word. Indeed, we at FIRE all recognize that, as the Supreme Court recognized in Cohen v. California, “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”