Remember that whole blunder with captions for Instagram Stories which I mentioned in an earlier issue? Well, the feature that was inadvertently ‘leaked’ in March is now here for good.
Let’s be clear: there’s still some things about these captions which aren’t ideal in terms of readability (the rapid, word-by-word appearance of the text isn’t always accessible to those with dyslexia or individuals who struggle with cognition), yet there’s also another element of Instagram’s captions sticker which is flawed: censoring swear words.
They’re not the only platform to do this, by the way. YouTube, to avoid “‘potentially inappropriate” words
from coming up in their automatic captions, decided to play it safe (and ridiculous) by replacing any word they considered as being problematic with ’[__]‘. Hopefully it doesn’t take a [__] genius to realise how [__] irritating a [__] feature which censors every other word can be.
You may argue that such a move is needed to keep platforms like this PG, but there are already tools out there which can restrict expletives from being seen/heard by younger audiences. 'Made for Kids’, Restricted Mode and YouTube Kids all work to get mature content away from the eyes of children on YouTube, and on Instagram, a slightly hidden setting can allow you to state that only those over a certain age limit can follow your account. Settings which can stop people from witnessing bad language are there; you do not need to add censorship into captioning features to mitigate this risk.
In the case of Instagram, as autistic and disabled activist Charli Clement pointed out on Twitter
, the audio beeps which are emitted in place of the actual explicit can be a nightmare to neurodivergent people who hate unexpected noises. It’s one thing annoying deaf people by implying we can’t handle strong language; it’s another potentially causing harm to neurodivergent folks by adding loud, unexpected and unnecessary beeps to your captions tool.
The heading for this section is a reference to Helen Lovejoy of The Simpsons, an adaptation of her catchphrase being apt to describe this whole mess. Captioning tools which censor language is not only discriminatory, but infantilising as hell. Stop it.