I’m OK with making fun of myself. Honestly, I have no choice. Being a first-class klutz, I’m often doing something that merits a ribbing. But what happened today takes the cake. So here I go.

Well, actually I did the thing that earned me the ribbing a long time ago — like about nine years ago, when I first set up RiverheadLOCAL’s Facebook page. I did that some time after we launched, because initially I’d set up an account in the name “Riverhead Local,” like it was a person. Also stupid because Facebook had a limit of 5,000 friends at the time and, um, it is against the social media site’s rules to register an account in the name of anyone other than a real person. But that’s another story.

When I set up the Facebook page, I must have been concerned about people using bad language. Since I wanted to keep our Facebook page a family-friendly sort of place. Yeah, that worked. Boy, was I naive when we first started this thing a decade ago.

So I must have set up a list of “blacklisted” words in a “profanity filter.” Comments that contained any of the blacklisted words would be automatically held (by one of Facebook’s trusty algorithms) for review by a real live human (me).

And then I promptly forgot all about it.

Today, when a reader called to ask why his comments had been deleted — something which nobody here did — I looked into it. Seems that when a story has a comment awaiting moderation, there’s a little tab at the top of the comment box, presumably visible only to site admins, labeled “comment moderation.”

When I clicked that little tab, sure enough there were two comments by this person awaiting review. They contained no foul language. But each comment had words that contained the word “ass.” One was “class” and the other was “association.” The offending portions of those words were highlighted in yellow for ease in locating them. Say what? The “profanity filter” was snagging profane words contained within other, non-profane words?

WTF Facbook?

Fortunately, I happened to be sitting in our conference room with three millennials. Within 30 seconds, they figured out what happened and why. And within 34 seconds, they were laughing hysterically. Like rolling-on-the-floor, water-spraying-out-the-nostrils hysterical. As in ROTFLMAO.

It wasn’t just the bad words I had put in the profanity filter that tickled the youngsters’ funny bones. Sure, there were the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” listed by George Carlin back in ’72. And some of the salty language that sent Lenny Bruce to jail a few times in the 60s. I’m showing my age here — and, apparently I was showing my age in the “words” I chose to blacklist.

In addition to the aforesaid “ass” was “arse.” And “balls” and “damn” and “damnit.” There was “bullshit” — which even today, in a time when the President of the United States uses that word in public speaking, I still hesitate to publish it. I’m not going to publish the word that technically means “female dogs.” Or the word that technically means “child born out of wedlock” (dating back to a time when that was something truly scandalous.) But those words were on my blacklist too. And for a reason I can’t fathom from the vantage point of 2019, the list even included the word “fart.”

Got me to thinking how 2010 seems like a whole different era. Discourse had not yet been utterly polluted by the cesspool that is social media…

But I digress.

While my “blacklist” started Team LOCAL’s younger set laughing this afternoon, the thing that really made them laugh their arses off — was the immediate discovery that our Facebook page had — are you ready — hundreds, maybe even thousands of comments awaiting moderation.

If you posted a comment that never appeared — say you used the word “massive” or “passing” or tried to tag your friend Cassidy (three comments were hidden in the past day for these transgressions) — well, now you know why.

I’ll leave it to the younger set to revise that blacklist. I am obviously the wrong person for the job. At this point, we should probably remove the word “ass.” Heck, it didn’t even make George Carlin’s list 47 years ago. As for the words that did, personally I’d rather not see them on our website.

But then I’d like to go back to a time when people didn’t pepper their everyday conversation with foul language, when people were more courteous to each other, even when they disagreed. That genie is long out of the bottle.

Facebook allows the page admins to publish comments held for review in batches of 100. Now you know how I’ll be spending my evening. And cursing out Facebook the entire time.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.