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A wordfilter (sometimes referred to as just “filter” or “censor”) is a script typically used on Internet forums or chat rooms that automatically scans users’ posts or comments as they are submitted and automatically changes or censors particular words or phrases.
The most basic wordfilters search only for specific strings of letters, and remove or overwrite them regardless of their context. More advanced wordfilters make some exceptions for context (such as filtering “butt” but not “butter”), and the most advanced wordfilters may use regular expressions.
A swear filter, also known as a profanity filter or language filter is a software subsystem which modifies text to remove words deemed offensive by the administrator or community of an online forum. Swear filters are common in custom-programmed chat rooms and online video games, primarily MMORPGs. This is not to be confused with content filtering, which is usually built into internet browsing programs by third-party developers to filter or block specific websites or types of websites. Swear filters are usually created or implemented by the developers of the Internet service.
Most commonly, wordfilters are used to censor language considered inappropriate by the operators of the forum or chat room. Expletives are typically partially replaced, completely replaced, or replaced by nonsense words. This relieves the administrators or moderators of the task of constantly patrolling the board to watch for such language. This may also help the message board avoid content-control software installed on users’ computers or networks, since such software often blocks access to Web pages that contain vulgar language.
Filtered phrases may be permanently replaced as it is saved (example: phpBB 1.x), or the original phrase may be saved but displayed as the censored text. In some software users can view the text behind the wordfilter by quoting the post.
Swear filters typically take advantage of string replacement functions built into the programming language used to create the program, to swap out a list of inappropriate words and phrases with a variety of alternatives. Alternatives can include:
grawlix nonsense characters, such as !@#$%^&*
Replacing a certain letter with a shift-number character or a similar looking one.
Asterisks (* or #) of either a set length, or the length of the original word being filtered. Alternatively, posters often replace certain letters with an asterisk.
Minced oaths such as “heck” or “darn”, or invented words such as “flum”.
Family friendly words or phrases, or euphemisms, like “LOVE” or “I LOVE YOU”, or completely different words which have nothing to do with the original word.
Deletion of the post. In this case, the entire post is blocked and there is usually no way to fix it.
Nothing at all. In this case, the offending word is deleted.
Some swear filters do a simple search for a string. Others have measures that ignore whitespace, and still others go as far as ignoring all non-alphanumeric characters and then filtering the plain text. This means that if the word “you” was set to be filtered, “y o u” or “y.o!u” would also be filtered.
Since wordfilters are automated and look only for particular sequences of characters, users aware of the filters will sometimes try to circumvent them by changing their lettering just enough to avoid the filters. A user trying to avoid a vulgarity filter might replace one of the characters in the offending word into an asterisk, dash, or something similar. Some administrators respond by revising the wordfilters to catch common substitutions; others may make filter evasion a punishable offense of its own. A simple example of evading a wordfilter would be entering symbols between letters or using leet. More advanced techniques of wordfilter evasion include the use of images, using hidden tags, or Cyrillic characters (i.e. a homograph spoofing attack).
Another method is to use a soft hyphen. A soft hyphen is only used to indicate where a word can be split when breaking text lines and is not displayed. By placing this halfway in a word, the word gets broken up and will in some cases not be recognised by the wordfilter.
Some more advanced filters, such as those in the online game RuneScape, can detect bypassing. However, the downside of sensitive wordfilters is that legitimate phrases get filtered out as well.