February 14, 2004

Web sense: Language Log is clean

One must be so careful not to jump to conclusions, always to ask what the evidence is, always to double-check. Otherwise one will believe all sorts of nonsense. I did some corresponding with the Websense corporation after a reader of Language Log reported that the Websense filters were blocking access to our site on grounds that it was a sex site. We were indeed being blocked, and we immediately jumped to the conclusion that content must be to blame. After all, searches on the string "sex pro" were at one point turning up, as the top-ranked hit, a saucy piece by Mark (that animal!) on the views of Sapir and Whorf concerning the influence of language and thought -- he had headlined it "Sapir/Whorf: sex (pro) and space (anti)".

But things were not so entertainingly loopy, it turns out. No robot had scanned our stuff for pornographic or titillating content and placed us on the banned list because of what was found.

An employee on the Websense database staff, signing the initials PL, has informed me that we had never been tagged as a porn site:

Just to let you know, Language Log was not classified under an adult category at any time in our master database. The issue was caused by an erroneous classification for another site that was hosted on the same IP as www.languagelog.com, and it was rectified when brought to our attention.

So we have no exotic anecdote to offer you about crazy web censoring by fgrep searches for dirty words. It was just a typo in a sort of phone book of IP addresses concerning the sites hosted by the virtual hosting company that rents us our URLs languagelog.com, languagelog.net, and languagelog.org (they all point to the same machine, a little under-used Linux box sitting unnoticed on a table behind a filing cabinet somewhere in the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania). Websense seems to have acted courteously and extremely swiftly when informed of the mistaken classification of our harmless little educational site, which hardly ever mentions such topics as massage or adult situations or fetishism or anything, not that there's anything wrong with those topics.

Language Log is back in business, and we can say whatever we f*cking jolly well please, even on the topic (should it ever come up) of s.e.x.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 14, 2004 12:55 PM