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Council bans use of word ‘Commie’ – but ‘fascist’ and ‘Nazi’ are fine

Birmingham City Council has revealed its official email blacklist, with some surprising results

Adam Withnall
Monday 09 December 2013 11:12 GMT
Emails about the renowned 'Commie' Che Guevara might not get through to Birmingham City Council
Emails about the renowned 'Commie' Che Guevara might not get through to Birmingham City Council (Getty Images)

A council has banned the word “Commie” from appearing in any of its emails – yet words like “Nazi” and “fascist” are allowed.

The blacklist of 130 terms deemed unacceptable by Birmingham City Council has thrown up some bizarre inconsistencies, while also posing a challenge to anyone with a serious sexual health query.

The council said it “regularly monitored” the list of words which would automatically be blocked by email filters, making it baffling that an outdated American slang term for a Communist should feature.

In any case, Birmingham’s Sunday Mercury reported, anyone wanting to criticise a councillor at the country’s largest local authority could simply use the terms “leftie”, “Bolshevik” or “red” instead, while no such blocks apply for words like “Nazi” at the extreme other end of the political spectrum.

The newspaper received a four-page printed list of banned vocabulary, including swear words, racist, homophobic and sexist terms, offensive national stereotypes and a general assortment of words deemed abusive.

The list was acquired in the post by Freedom of Information request, since it could not be emailed.

One potentially concerning aspect of the list was the decision to ban basic terms for the human anatomy. Emails containing words like penis, vagina, anus and even nipples would not be allowed to reach their intended recipient – odd, the Mercury reported, given the council’s responsibility for the city’s public health.

“Of course you can always do what anyone else with a filter does and insert a number, a few asterisks or spaces in a swear word to get it through,” an official told the newspaper.

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “The internet and e-mail monitoring products we use are American applications, and the default word and topic lists are based on web use in that country.

“The lists are modified to take into account British considerations and the lists are monitored regularly, through monthly meetings with our IT partners and a comprehensive annual review process. This means new words and terms can be added if deemed necessary.”

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