Is Censorship Changing Your Language?

This Week In Writing, we explore algorithm-driven ‘anglospeak’ and how words and their meanings change over time.

Is Censorship Changing Your Language?
Photo by Lianhao Qu / Unsplash

Spend any time on TikTok, and you’ll likely encounter an unfamiliar version of the English language. Dubbed anglospeak, online creators change their words to avoid content filtering. As The Washington Post explains, “in many online videos, it’s common to say ‘unalive’ rather than ‘dead,’ ‘SA’ instead of ‘sexual assault,’ or ‘spicy eggplant’ instead of ‘vibrator.’”

Language is constantly evolving, and word usage changes over time. Clive Thompson says using “code-talk” to avoid platform moderation began in China and goes back years. He even links to “an up-to-date encyclopedia devoted to tracking these code words run by the Berkeley-based China Digital Times.”

I’ll leave the debate over whether platforms should use algorithms to automatically filter certain words to Clive Thompson, who is far more qualified to offer suggestions. Instead, I’m curious how your usage of language has changed over time. Do you avoid specific topics or words in your writing, or do you change the meaning of words? Hit reply and let me know. If you actively use anglospeak online, I would love to talk to you more.

A version of this article also appeared on Medium.