Facebook bans users from promoting posts with the word ‘Scunthorpe’ in them

The problem is so prevalent that it has become famous among those that make spam filters or tools that block obscene words

Andrew Griffin
Monday 04 April 2016 17:16 BST
The Tata Steel plant is seen in Scunthorpe northern England
The Tata Steel plant is seen in Scunthorpe northern England

Facebook bans its users from promoting posts with the word Scunthorpe in it.

The company’s profanity algorithm appears to be banning all posts with the word in it from being promoted, because of the swear word buried in the middle of it. That has left residents of the Lincolnshire town unable to advertise their services on the site, and bands and other pages unable to post about visiting there.

The problem was stumbled upon by band October Drift as they attempted to post about an upcoming gig on their Facebook page. But it seems to be affecting anyone who attempts to post about the town, showing that Facebook is falling victim to an age-old problem of online forums and spam filters.

“As a band we like to promote our shows via Facebook,” October Drift’s Dan Young told The Independent. “But Facebook has none of it when trying to boost the posts.”

The band usually posts an update ahead of gigs in a certain city, announcing that they are playing there soon and targeting the post to people in the local area who might be interested. But if they or anyone else announce that they are about to play in Scunthorpe, Facebook won’t let them pay to “boost” the post and have it pushed into other people’s news feeds.

The word can be written in a normal post, as can most other profanities. But as soon as someone attempts to pay to have the reach of a post with the word increased, the automated filter will step in.

The problem that the North Lincolnshire town presents mean that it has become famous — the “Scunthorpe problem” is the general term for when words are blocked by automated systems because they share some of their words with a swearword or other profanity. In most systems that issue has been overcome, usually by adding rules that exempt specific words, but Facebook appears still to be running into the problem.

October Drift described the problem as “so 90s” and pointed out that “back in the day it was like that on forums too, but the forum software providers and programmers sorted it”.

The band said that the company appears to let posts about Scunthorpe through once users appeal. But the long process of doing so tends to mean that any last minute posts before gigs won’t actually get through the filter until after the event has happened.

Mr Young also said that the band adds a note on every appeal, pointing out that it would be easier if the filter was removed. But Facebook hasn’t responded to any of those comments, he said, and the block continues to be in place.

“We always put a note in saying that it's the profanity filter that's failing for the town name but Facebook still doesn't make the amendment,” October Drift’s Dan Young told The Independent. “Surprising given they're supposed to be at the forefront of modern tech.”

Facebook Reactions

Earlier this year, the same problem was complained about by an advertiser in Scunthorpe, who was attempting to boost a post that offered “Same day phone and tablet repairs in Scunthorpe”.

“My ad not approved because of the word Scunthorpe,” wrote user Jon Jarman. “Seriously Facebook are your algorithms written by 5 year olds?”

A member of Facebook’s help team replied to highlight the company’s appeals process. He also said that users should check Facebook’s ad policies to check whether ads comply with guidelines.

But Mr Jarman was still annoyed about the response.

“I don't need to see what is and isn't approved - there's nothing wrong with the advert it's just the fact that word Scunthorpe is in it,” he wrote. “As soon as I type the word 'Scunthorpe' I get an immediate warning that my ad contains inappropriate language.”

Facebook did not initially respond to requests for comment.

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