Trolls delight in making up “hilarious” fake names, so websites try to filter certain words for new accounts. What if your real name contains one of those words?

Natalie Weiner, a writer for SB Nation, was recently filtered by just such a system.

The responses reveal a very real problem. Here’s Daniel Oberhaus, writing for Motherboard:

Soon, Weiner’s mentions were filled with hundreds of comments from people who sympathized with her plight. “I get this a lot, surprisingly,” said Kyle Medick. James Butts “knows these problems” and Matt Cummings has “been there.” Arun Dikshit said algorithmic bias has become almost a daily occurrence. “At one of my jobs, IT had to create a rule on email server to stop my emails from being rejected as porn spam,” said Clark Aycock.

These sites are just trying to prevent certain words in fake names from becoming common on the site, but the automated measures end up making life harder for innocent people. It’s a problem.

Oberhaus outlines that this isn’t new: way back in 1996 an AOL filter banned the entire UK city of Scunthorpe from signing up for accounts because of an embedded four letter word. Over 20 years later, with plenty of advancement in AI, the same problem persists.


This has to be frustrating for people. My last name, Pot, has triggered jokes from near strangers my entire life. This is annoying enough, so I can only imagine how bad it must be when the machines are adding to it by refusing to accept your actual name.

Profile Photo for Justin Pot Justin Pot
Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
Read Full Bio »