Last week at Cannes Lions, Monica Lewinsky spoke powerfully about her own experiences of online shaming, and called for action against this phenomenon, which has spread into many people’s daily reality. Just a week before that, author Jamie Bartlett talked to us about the various ways in which ‘extreme’ online content can warp our perspectives and even influence our behaviour in the offline world.
The prevalence of the web means near-constant exposure to both positive and negative stimuli, but anonymity means individuals will feel more encouraged to indulge their worst selves in comment threads and forums.Now we have at least one partial solution, in the form of a Google Chrome plug-in which shields users from potentially upsetting content. Designed by Verve Search and inspired by ‘Everything Is Awesome’, Tegan & Sara’s infectious soundtrack to The Lego Movie, the app transforms text it deems inappropriate or insulting into the word ‘awesome’, spelled out in rainbow colours.
As a means of taking away cyber-bullies’ power, it’s a novel notion. The most obvious utility here would be as a parental tool, to protect younger and more vulnerable internet users from stumbling across language they’re not quite ready to process. It might even take off among grown-ups who have been cyber-shamed; I’m sure Justine Sacco, or Tim Hunt, or whichever poor soul Twitter targets next, would be thrilled with this pleasing-to-the-eye censor.
There’s no doubt that the trolls will be up in arms over this rainbow-hued infringement of free expression, and even some consumers may be concerned, especially after we all got so outraged when Facebook tried to moderate the content in our feeds. The difference here, of course, is that users have to opt in.
But we needn’t worry about the gentrification of our darkest 4chan threads just yet – the app has proven meddling at best when it comes to spotting which language is offensive, failing to block out ‘gay’ when used as a slur and removing ‘hard’ when used to mean ‘difficult’. Maybe that’s more nuance than we can expect from a technological innovation inspired by a movie, which was in turn based on a child’s toy.
“Still, it could be a fun way to filter through hate mail,” says Mashable’s Kimberly Truong, “even if it doesn’t quite key in on everything.”
See some of the awesomised content below: