Facebook's Peculiar Foreign Language Options May Offend

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TechCrunch reader Lane Woolf has brought to our attention a possibly offensive Languages option on Facebook Profiles (Edit profile > Languages > Type in the first three letters). While the first reports on Twitter about being able to set your profile language to “Nigga Slang” come from two days ago, complaints have come to a head today, on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

This is not intentional on Facebook’s part. A source familiar with Facebook tells us that the language choices on profiles are probably user-generated, and it seems like the Languages field lists all languages that more than a certain number of users have entered. What might be going on here is that people got together and set their language to “Nigga Slang” in order to cause it to appear as a choice, possibly coinciding with the holiday.

The word “nigga” is often embraced by as a sign of empowerment by African American youth and hip hop culture. But many still can’t shake the fact that it has evolved out of and is gradations away from the offensive racial slur “nigger” and still carries some of same connotations. The controversy over appropriate usage and context continues to this day (see below).

As this is a thorny issue and users are up in arms, one solution here for Facebook is either to ban certain words or assert more control over which choices become auto-generated options, keeping innocuous ones like “Minnesota Viking” and getting rid of dubious ones like “i speak bitch fluently (:” or  “This is America, I speak American.”

I’ve let Facebook know that this is happening, and will update this post when I hear back.

Update: Facebook says that a bug was causing the problem and gave us the below statement.

“A bug in one of our automated systems incorrectly applied to our type-ahead feature several languages that users inputted as free text.  We have removed these offensive strings and apologize for the mistake.”

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