Why Web Filters Don't Work- Penistone and the Scunthorpe Problem

The Scunthorpe problem is the unintentional filtering of words or strings due to a substring containing an offensive or unacceptable word. The problem was named after an incident in 1996 when AOL's profanity filter prevented residents of Scunthorpe, a town in North Lincolnshire, England, from creating AOL accounts because the place name contains an extremely offensive vulgarity, "c*nt".


  • Scunthorpe may be censored to Sc*nthorpe by a filter. The greeting hello could be changed to hecko. The word classic can become clbuttic, an alternative name for the Scunthorpe problem.
  • In Pokémon Black and White and their sequels, some Pokémon could not be traded into the Global Trade Station due to a word filter within the game. Most notably, Cofagrigus caused this problem due to the "fag" part of the name being in the banned keyword list. The only way to resolve this was to nickname it. Eventually it was patched. However, it still prevented users from trading some Pokémon without nicknames, such as Probopass.
  • In 2008, the filter of the free wireless service of the town of Whakatane in New Zealand blocked searches involving the town's own name because the filter's phonetic analysis deemed the "whak" to sound like the F-word; the town name is in Māori, and in the Māori language "wh" is most commonly pronounced as "f". The town subsequently put the town name on the filter's whitelist.
  • Facebook's algorithms erroneously deleted the official page of the French town of Bitche on 19 March 2021. Facebook issued an apology, and the page was restored afterwards.[1]
  • The Xbox text filter is causing unexpected filtering of words in the chat logs for players of Final Fantasy XIV for that platform. Filtered text is converted into question marks, such as "class" into cl???, "self up" (f**k up) into sel? ??, "harvest dance" (sexually transmitted disease) into harve?? ?ance, among others.[2]


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